City Council discusses health of Tumalo Creek

February 7, 2015
City Council discusses health of Tumalo Creek

By Tyler Leeds

The Bend City Council met Friday to discuss its approach to the restoration of Tumalo Creek, a tributary to the Deschutes River which loses water to the city.

The meeting was the first in what City Manager Eric King said could become a once-a-month routine for the council. The objective of the extra meetings, King said, will be to keep members up to speed on one another’s board and committee duties and to tackle new issues as they arise.

While it wasn’t discussed, hanging over Friday afternoon’s discussion is an appeal challenging a $24 million city of Bend drinking water project. The appeal, which was recently filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is intended to stop the replacement of an aging pipe that diverts drinking water from Bridge Creek, a tributary of Tumalo Creek. Central Oregon LandWatch and WaterWatch of Oregon filed the lawsuit in 2013, arguing the U.S. Forest Service failed to properly investigate how it would affect the creeks’ water levels and the fish within before issuing a permit. In December, a district judge sided with the city and Forest Service.

Two councilors elected this November, Nathan Boddie and Barb Campbell, frequently criticized the planning and high cost of the project during their campaigns.

Before discussing what the council plans to do, the body heard a presentation about current efforts to increase the amount of water in the creek, something which depends in large part on the efforts of the Tumalo Irrigation District, which diverts the vast majority of water taken from the creek. The Deschutes River Conservancy is working to coordinate the irrigation efforts with those of Central Oregon’s municipalities.

After the presentation, Mayor Jim Clinton suggested a goal for the creek that goes above and beyond what Tod Heisler, the conservancy’s executive director, said his organization is pursuing.

“I’m 100 percent supportive of Tumalo Creek having flows approximating historical levels in all stretches and doing whatever restoration is needed,” Clinton said.

Clinton said it’s “absurd” the irrigation district is able to divert water he considers to belong to the public while the city has to consider spending money to provide incentives for the district to divert less.

“What I say is meaningless and counterproductive, I understand that,” Clinton said, referencing water right laws that protect the irrigation district’s access.

Councilor Casey Roats said he hopes that if the city spends money to increase the amount of water in the creek, it should be compensated with more water rights to protect its supply.

Boddie largely agreed with Clinton, arguing the city must work to set a flow level that is “reasonably biologically sustaining.” Once the flow begins approaching the number, Boddie suggested, the city should commit to taking less and expect the irrigation district to do the same.

Finding such a level has been an issue in the LandWatch lawsuit, as the environmental organization has argued the flow level set as appropriate by the Forest Service is too low.

Councilor Victor Chudowsky suggested the city should stick to “really attainable goals,” because setting difficult-to-achieve goals would be counterproductive.

In the short term, Heisler said the irrigation district is making progress toward conserving more water by piping sections of its various canals. Piping helps with leaking, which across the entire system can deplete between 45 to 65 percent of the water diverted.

Although the irrigation district takes significantly more water than the city, Campbell asked the council to stop pretending the city “isn’t also doing something terrible” by taking water and hurting the creek’s health.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,

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