Letter: Piping Tumalo Canal is the sustainable solution

May 5, 2015
Letter: Piping Tumalo Canal is the sustainable solution

By Victor Chudowsky

Spring is here, and it’s time for another assault by Central Oregon LandWatch on our supply of drinking water.

Last spring, LandWatch filed a lawsuit that attempted to limit Bend’s water rights. In the course of the hearings, the Oregon Water Resources Department weighed in and found a glaring error in LandWatch’s case.

Because of the date of water rights on Tumalo Creek, water that the city gave up could simply be used by Tumalo Irrigation District. It would not stay in stream.

Oops! The federal judge tossed the case.

Having failed in court, LandWatch is now trying to scare us into giving up surface water because of climate change. LandWatch says the city should use less, or none at all, because our watershed will dry up. As they stated in court, Bend should just use groundwater.

They are wrong. Leading scientists have told me that LandWatch’s climate claims are exaggerated. In fact, our city’s water supply is well positioned to deal with challenges arising from global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued guidelines to water utilities on how to address this problem. First, water utilities should reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. Second, they should have strategies in place to adapt, in a flexible way, to a changing climate.

Surface water is the backbone of our supply, augmented during the summer by groundwater from wells. Running wells is expensive because of electricity and maintenance. The city has 26 wells, some of which are as deep as 1,100 feet. Water is pulled out of the ground by a 350-horsepower electric motor.

During the summer our electricity costs are about $3,600 per day, and producing electricity creates greenhouse gases. If the city were to switch to an all-groundwater system, as LandWatch wants, this would belch an additional 3,690 metric tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere annually — the equivalent of 415,000 gallons of gasoline.

Any move whatsoever to groundwater would mean less efficiency, higher electricity and maintenance costs (passed on to ratepayers) and more emissions.

But this is lost on LandWatch. Their backward logic is:

• Problem: Greenhouse gases are causing global warming and drying up our watershed.

• Solution: Produce more greenhouse gases.

What’s worse, more groundwater pumping would have a negative effect on Deschutes River flows, as has been shown not only by the U.S. Geological Survey but by the author of LandWatch’s own recent study. Using surface water allows our aquifer to replenish itself. By having access to both sources, we have the ability to adjust our use as circumstances change.

Thus, what LandWatch wants for our water supply in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and groundwater is the exact opposite of what the EPA recommends.

What is the best path forward to restore flows in Tumalo Creek? Put the rest of TID’s canal into a pipe. TID is the stream’s biggest user. Half its water is lost to ground absorption and evaporation. But TID is doing a fantastic job addressing this problem. The piping it has done so far has actually worked to increase Tumalo flows to a far greater extent than hot air in courtrooms. Let’s compare strategies:

• TID piping strategy: 12 cubic feet per second already back instream; another 20 cfs is attainable.

• LandWatch legal strategy: zero.

This would only be of passing interest were it not for the fact that LandWatch’s legal bungling has cost our city $5.5 million. You, Bend resident, pay for that out of your water bill.

So let’s continue with what actually works. Piping is a win-win solution: more water in Tumalo Creek, and the city and TID have all the water they need.

Recently, a joint study group of all water stakeholders has been formed to find even more ways to conserve water.

Hopefully LandWatch will come around to the obvious merits of these solutions.

— Victor Chudowsky is a Bend city councilor. He lives in Bend.

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