December 16, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Complaint an effort to stall Bend's water plan, city says

December 16, 2010
December 16, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Complaint an effort to stall Bend's water plan, city says

Complaint an effort to stall Bend’s water plan, city says

WaterWatch claims some water from Bridge Creek ill-used

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Published: December 16. 2010 4:00AM PST

The city of Bend responded Wednesday to claims that the Bridge Creek water system is operating illegally, describing allegations made by a nonprofit conservation organization as an attempt to delay or derail an upgrade to the city’s water system.

WaterWatch of Oregon filed a complaint with the state Water Resources Department last week, claiming the city is drawing more water from Bridge Creek than is required to meet demand, putting it at odds with a state law requiring all water go to a “beneficial use.”

11 million gallons daily

The city acknowledges that the Bridge Creek system, which provides about half of the city’s annual water supply, does take in more water than required during certain times of year.

Located about 10 to 12 miles west of Bend, the Bridge Creek intake diverts 11 million gallons of water a day year round and pipes it to a treatment facility off Skyliners Road. In the summer, when demand can run as high as 25 million gallons a day, the Bridge Creek water is treated and sent into the city system, along with water from the city’s network of wells. But in winter, when total demand is normally below 11 million gallons a day, the excess Bridge Creek water is piped back into Tumalo Creek — which in the view of WaterWatch of Oregon is not a “beneficial use.”

Timing puzzles city

City Attorney Mary Winters said Bend officials believe they are operating within the law, and are a bit puzzled by the timing of the group’s complaint.

“The city’s been doing this for a long time; there’s no new information about how the city’s operating,” Winters said.

In a statement issued by the city Wednesday, it claims that many other water systems operate in the same fashion as Bend’s, and that engineering limitations require the city to draw the full 11 million gallons a day from Bridge Creek to avoid damaging the pipe. Winters said a city consultant had assured her that other similar water systems are operating in Oregon, but she does not know where they are located.

Winters said the current system must be operated with full pipes from Bridge Creek to the treatment plant to maintain adequate pressure and avoid damaging the 1920s-era pipes.
With the city on the verge of launching a $58 million upgrade to the Bridge Creek system — which would eliminate the need to draw more water from Bridge Creek than needed — it appears the complaint is an attempt to stall or block the city’s plans, Winters said. The city is also considering a hydropower plant that would bring the total cost of that upgrade to $73 million.

“If this is really their concern, one would think they’d be supporting the new system,” she said.

Kimberly Priestly, the senior policy analyst for WaterWatch, said in an e-mail that the city’s response to the complaint does not address the legal status of the city’s excess diversions from Bridge Creek.

“The City asserts that this is a common practice,” Priestly wrote. “If in fact this is a standard operating procedure then we need to get busy and make sure that all water right holders come into compliance with the law. The rivers and streams of Oregon have reached a breaking point, there is not enough water left instream to meet the needs of fish and wildlife.”

City officials are scheduled to meet with the Water Resources Department later this week to discuss the complaint, Winters said.

Scott Hammers can be reached at 541-383-0387 or

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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An aerial view of a body of water.