December 2, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Bend OKs water filtration system

December 10, 2010
December 2, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Bend OKs water filtration system

Bend OKs water filtration system

City councilors vote 5-2 for more expensive option as part of city’s $73 million overhaul

By Nick Grube / The Bulletin

Published: December 02. 2010 4:00AM PST

Bend City Councilors opted Wednesday to pursue the more expensive of two water treatment options as engineers continue to design a proposed $73 million reconstruction and expansion of the Bridge Creek water system.

The council voted 5-2 to move ahead with a high-tech membrane filtration system that officials say will protect the city’s drinking water against both wildfire debris and microorganisms like Cryptosporidium that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Bend must treat for by 2012 if the city wants to continue using its surface water supply.

Councilors nixed the cheaper option — an ultraviolet light filtration system that makes Cryptosporidium inert — because they were told by city staff and consultants it would be practically useless should a wildfire occur in the Bridge Creek watershed, and that they would likely have to install a membrane system anyway in that scenario.

The city is upgrading its water system to meet new federal mandates and replace the aging pipeline that brings water from Bridge Creek.

What was supposed to be a vote on filtration options Wednesday seemed more like a referendum on the merits of the overall project.

Even though the council voted at its last meeting in November to move ahead with the surface water project, Councilors Jim Clinton and Oran Teater, the two votes against the filtration option Wednesday, both said the city should take pause before moving forward.

They said the city should consider, among other things, some of the concerns of recent critics who have said the costs and benefit of the project have been exaggerated and the impacts to the environment have been underanalyzed.

“For me the pieces are not fitting together,” Clinton said, “and the more I look at it the less it fits together.”

Clinton, who was the sole councilor to vote against proceeding with the Bridge Creek overhaul in November, said he felt the cost of the project is too high. He said he would like to see it “scaled down” and a “more innovative” solution found. If that can’t happen, he said, he might support a system that relies on all groundwater — drilling for water, which is where Bend gets about half of its annual supply.

Teater also supported taking some time to reevaluate the surface water project even though he voted to move ahead on the project in November. He said a group of individuals, led by local attorney Bill Buchanan, that has come up with its own proposal to meet Bend’s water needs through wells has raised some valid concerns. He said the council should delay moving forward until the city’s infrastructure committee met with the group to discuss that proposal, scheduled for later in the month.

“I just think there’s enough question marks in the air, and it’s a very complex issue,” Teater said before casting his vote against the membrane treatment option.

But many of the other councilors said they felt they had heard enough to make an informed decision on the treatment option Wednesday, despite what some of them couched as last minutes pleas to do otherwise.

Councilor Mark Capell, who voiced his support for the project throughout his recent election campaign, said that while he didn’t like the idea of increasing water rates for Bend’s customers, he believed the city needed to move forward with upgrades. He compared the decision the councilors were making to that of Bend’s forefathers who he said had the foresight to set aside land for Drake Park.

“I think we have Band-Aided our infrastructure for a number of years, and we haven’t been able to make the best decisions for our community,” Capell said. “This is one of those hard decisions we have to make for the long run of our community.”

He wasn’t the only councilor to voice a positive opinion about Bend’s surface water project. Councilors Jeff Eager and Tom Greene also vocalized their opinions before voting to add the more expensive membrane filtration treatment method to the Bridge Creek upgrade.

The cost differential between a membrane system and UV filtration is about $5 million. For the average household water customer, this equates to a different of about a quarter a month in the first year of rate increases and about $3 in the fifth year, according to consultant estimates.

Water rates have already increased for utility customers over the past three years, and with the council’s approval to pursue the membrane treatment option, that means the city’s most recent estimates project they will increase by about 42 percent over the next five years. Councilors may also consider pursuing a $13 million hydropower plant as part of the Bridge Creek upgrade in an effort to generate green energy from the water running downhill.

Should councilors decide to approve the hydropower plant — something they aren’t expected to make a decision on until early next year — then monthly rates could go up by about 45.5 percent over the next five years. Councilors aren’t expected to make a decision on the hydropower component of the project until early next year.

Nick Grube can be reached at 541-633-2160 or at

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

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An aerial view of a body of water.