Guest column: Forest Service must do more to protect Tumalo Creek

August 16, 2018
Guest column: Forest Service must do more to protect Tumalo Creek

The headwater springs of Tumalo Creek, Tumalo Falls and the creek as it flows through Shevlin Park are among the most popular recreation sites in Central Oregon.

A picture of Tumalo Falls is on the cover of the Deschutes National Forest Recreation Map. Protecting flows in Tumalo Creek is important.

The city of Bend currently diverts water from the Tumalo Headwater Springs. This diverted water would otherwise flow down Tumalo Creek, over Tumalo Falls and down through Shevlin Park.

Instead, the diverted water runs through a ditch to Bridge Creek from which the city takes water to supply part of its water system.

Several years ago, the city proposed a $70 million project to upgrade the Bridge Creek diversion and to install a large pipe to the city waterworks.

It also sought to increase the amount of water diverted at Bridge Creek by 9 percent, from 18.2 to 21 cubic feet per second (cfs).

A broad coalition of business interests, conservation groups and seven former mayors opposed the expensive project, asserting that use of groundwater would be cheaper and less harmful to the environment.

A federal court granted an injunction against the proposed diversion increase but allowed the infrastructure project to go forward along with the diversion of 18 cfs.

One of the arguments against the city’s new system was that the city actually planned to double its use of water from the creek.

In the past, the city had only used about half of what it diverted from Bridge Creek and returned the other half to Tumalo Creek at Shevlin Park.

The Bulletin recently ran an editorial about the city’s water system operation as not being as bad for the creek as opponents had predicted.

The Bulletin referred to opponents’ claim that “the city planned to double the increase in withdrawals from the creek” as “a deceptive claim and it did not happen.”

That description is incorrect. No one has ever referred to the term “double the increase,” whatever that means.

It is the doubling of past use that people warned about. Further, the fact of doubling of use actually came from the city and Forest Service.

The city’s contractor, HDR, gave the future use figures that showed the doubling of current use in Table A-2 of its technical memorandum to the city.

The Forest Service in its environmental assessment for the project, at pages 103-104, also showed that fact. Neither the city, nor the Forest Service, nor opponents said that the doubling of use would occur within one year.

The prediction all along by the city and Forest Service was that it would gradually increase and end up doubling by the year 2030.

Lest that people think that this is just water under the bridge, the Forest Service has recently announced it would take public comments until Aug. 23 on whether to renew for 20 years the city’s diversion of water from the Tumalo Headwater Springs.

The Forest Service is currently planning to do that without an environmental assessment.

It is critically important that there be an adequate environmental analysis of this diversion from the Headwater Springs.

First, the current diversion is completely unregulated with an open pipe and no head gate. The amount the city is diverting actually exceeds its 18.2 cfs at times. At a minimum, the Forest Service should require the city to install a system that allows diversion of only what they are legally entitled to.

A second reason for an environmental assessment is to determine the impacts of climate change on flows in Tumalo Creek.

Receding snow packs and glaciers will impact the springs and also the amount of water flowing over Tumalo Falls. The city’s diversion of water from the Headwater Springs should be limited to protect Tumalo Falls and minimum instream flows in Tumalo Creek.

It is critical that the public tells the Forest Service to preserve the flows of Tumalo Falls and Tumalo Creek.

—Paul Dewey is executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch.

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