Wetlands coming to Prineville

September 1, 2015
Wetlands coming to Prineville

Project will help treat wastewater, create trails, improve river

By Beau Eastes

PRINEVILLE — In one fell swoop, the city of Prineville expects to expand its wastewater capacity, stabilize sewage rates, create a new public hiking trail system and improve the overall health of the Crooked River.

The Crooked River Wetlands Complex looks to begin construction later this fall, said Eric Klann, Prineville Public Works director. When finished, the $8.8 million project — more than $4 million of which is being funded by various grants — will feature 5.4 miles of walking paths around a man-made wetland area northwest of Prineville. It’s designed to expand the city’s wastewater capabilities by filtering it through the wetlands. The project, which has survived nearly eight years of various financial and environmental studies, replaces a 2005 plan that called for building a $62 million mechanical treatment plant in Prineville.

“This really is a cutting-edge project,” Klann said Monday. He hopes to have the wetlands finished by 2017.

The Crooked River Wetlands Complex, which will utilize more than 500 acres of land already owned by the city, was first looked at after wastewater system development charges skyrocketed in 2005. In anticipation of the $62 million mechanical treatment plant, Prineville’s wastewater SDCs rose from not quite $4,000 per single household to more than $9,000. At the time, that was more than triple what Bend was charging for wastewater SDCs and about $6,000 more than Redmond.

Klann said when he was hired in 2007, one of his first mandates from the City Council was to find a way to cut those rates. Looking for an alternative to a $62 million treatment plant, Klann began exploring a more natural — and cheaper — way to expand the city’s wastewater capacity.

“Those costs were untenable,” Klann said about the mechanical plant. “There’s no way we could have paid for that.”

After several studies and two small wetland test plots, the Prineville City Council voted in 2011 to drop the costly mechanical processing plant idea and adopt the wetlands-complex plan in its place. In addition to costing a fraction of what the earlier project called for, the wetlands plan is expected to improve wildlife habitat around the Crooked River, which has become less and less crooked over the years in an effort to reduce flooding.

“When you straighten out rivers, it speeds up their velocity, which creates all kinds of problems,” Klann said.

Not only will the new wetlands add water to the Crooked River, Klann said — as much as 2 million gallons a day once the entire complex is completed — but also cool water, which is expected to help the reintroduction of steelhead salmon in the river. More than 5 miles of trails — half of which will be paved — will meander along the wetlands, including a perimeter loop that measures out perfectly at 5 kilometers. Interpretive kiosks and wooden footbridges will also figure into the design.

“It’s similar to when we built Meadow Lakes (Golf Course) in 1992,” said Joshua Smith, a city of Prineville senior planner, referencing the outside-the-box thinking on how to deal with wastewater. Meadow Lakes was created as a wastewater site and has gone on to win several environmental and golf awards.

“Projects like this certainly helps put us on the map. … You don’t necessarily expect progressive solutions like this out of a small, rural place like Prineville,” he said.

While Prineville’s wastewater department serves approximately 10,000 residents, the wetlands complex will be capable of handling an area with as many as 50,000 people.

“This sets us up for the future,” Klann said. “The person that has my job 15 years from now, the people sitting on City Council then, they’ll have a good wastewater plan.”

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