Higher water a possible problem at Bend Whitewater Park

June 11, 2016
Higher water a possible problem at Bend Whitewater Park

Earlier tests performed when Deschutes’ flows were lower

By Scott Hammers

High summer river flows are a likely contributor to problems at the Bend Whitewater Park, Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton said Friday.

The park district on Thursday closed the passageway channel at the new park on the Deschutes River, in response to concerns about users being dumped in the water and scraped up on the rocks that form 11 small drops. The whitewater channel, consisting of four larger waves and intended for skilled users, remains open.

Horton said the district tested the passageway channel both last September and this spring, with district staff and members of the design team and the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance floating through. He said the testers were more comfortable with whitewater than the typical user, and floated the passageway with less water in the river than was the case over the last week. As a result, their perception the channel was safe may have been inaccurate.

“They were trying to look at it through the lens of an everyday person in the river, and they felt we had been able to resolve the issues,” he said. “But we learned last weekend when the temperatures were so high and so many people were going though, that wasn’t the case.”

Just as high temperatures drive Bend residents and visitors to float the river, the amount of water flowing through Bend is closely correlated with the heat.

Area irrigation managers release more water at Wickiup Reservoir when crops downstream are thirsty, diverting a portion toward Alfalfa and Powell Butte at the Central Oregon Canal intake upstream of Bend, while the bulk of the water flows past the Bend Whitewater Park to canal intakes further downstream.

Engineers who helped design the passageway channel will be coming to Bend next week, Horton said, and will be working with the park district to identify possible fixes. The rocks that were added last winter at each of the drops to bump floaters toward the center of the channel could be replaced with smoother stones from out of the area, he said, or additional concrete.

Attempts at fixing the whitewater park over the winter consumed all but around $100,000 of the project budget and contingency fund, and Horton said it appears likely that any permanent fix will push the project over budget.

The same high water that seems to have contributed to problems in the passageway channel makes it difficult for the district to work in the area until fall. Horton said as was the case last winter and during the original construction of the park, the district will be seeking a modified state permit allowing it to work in the river outside of the July 1 to Oct. 15 window during which in-water work is ordinarily permitted.

With the closure expected to last through the end of irrigation season, this summer is likely to look much like last summer for those who choose to float. Floaters will have to exit the river to the left just above the Colorado Avenue bridge, and walk downstream about 100 yards to a small gravel beach at McKay Park. Much of McKay Park remains under construction, and is not expected to be open to the public until the fall.

If construction at McKay Park proceeds as planned, Horton said the district may be able to open up a footpath through the construction zone in about a month, giving those portaging a way to get out of the street.

Horton said the district has not identified any errors by design engineers or contractors that worked on the Bend Whitewater Park.

“We’re not passing any blame to anybody at this point,” he said. “This is a project that’s a first of its kind that we’re aware of, certainly anywhere on the West Coast. There’s a combination of engineering and art that goes into this, but there’s not a whitewater park anywhere in the country that I know of that hasn’t had to go back and make modifications.”

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