Editorial: Wild river ideal for downtown

July 11, 2012
Editorial: Wild river ideal for downtown

By Gerald Hubbard

The Upper Deschutes River is in part a wild and scenic river, and residents and visitors to the greater Bend area enjoy its beauty and many uses. Once the river reaches Bend it stops being a wild and rushing river and turns into a wide, shallow, warm body of water resting behind a tiny Pacific Power dam.

Pacific Power generates about one megawatt of power, which equals about the power used by 500 homes. The Portland General Electric power plant in Boardman produces 550 megawatts of power. The new mini-power generating plant north of Bend on the irrigation canal produces 3-3.5 megawatts of power, enough to power 2,100 to 2,450 homes. Another mini-generating plant is under consideration for the Wickiup Dam, which would generate power for more than 2,000 homes. Instead of water going through a spillway, the water released from the dam would be diverted and used to turn a turbine, generating electricity. The new generating plants do not create silt beds or impede the passage of trout and salmon.

The Central Oregon Irrigation District’s newest project — Juniper Ridge, built in 2009 and operational since late 2010 — produces slightly over three megawatts of electricity with a capacity of five megawatts. The District’s Siphon power plant plus Juniper Ridge have created economic benefits for the district and together generate $700,000 in annual revenue. The Juniper Ridge facility revenue is expected to increase to $1 million annually after the project is debt-free in about 16 years, according to the State Department of Energy.

The amount of power generated by Pacific Power’s Mirror Pond dam versus newer generating plants does not warrant its continued use.

Dams are being removed in the Western United States to allow rivers to return to the natural state and allow fish to migrate to their original spawning grounds. What were good ideas 60 to 100 years ago does not mean the resulting impacts are viable today and should be continued just because they exist.

There are many logical reasons for removing Mirror Pond dam, including:

Elimination of the cost of dredging the pond every five to 10 years at a cost of several million dollars.

Creating a new and unique wild river in downtown Bend.

Providing fish with cold, clean water rich in oxygen versus the shallow reservoir behind the dam with its warm water, which impacts fish and is low in oxygen.

Mirror Pond’s dam — like dams on other rivers that no longer serve a viable purpose — should be removed and the Deschutes River returned to a natural free-flowing river with riparian zones and habitat for wild, native redband trout. The restoration project would include removing the muddy areas and creating a natural landscape which would be advantageous to the residents living next to Mirror Pond.

A free-flowing Deschutes River would allow new recreational activities in downtown Bend such as:

• World-class kayaking events.

• New rafting routes for commercial and personal uses.

• Underwater viewing of fish and other wildlife viewing.

• Greatly improved trout fishing in downtown Bend.

• Educational opportunities for schoolchildren in downtown versus busing to remote areas.

• New river walks connecting Bend’s river walk trail system.

• Help reduce goose and wild fowl droppings on the walks and in parks.

The current pond, while being around for a long time, has a negative impact on the economy. Proposed engineering studies at $450,000 plus dredging at $2 million to $3 million every five-plus years produces no positive impact on the economy. Replacing the pond with a natural flowing river would have a positive impact on Bend and Deschutes County’s economy. A vibrant Deschutes River flowing through the largest city in Central Oregon will be a great attraction for locals and visitors.

— Gerald Hubbard lives in Bend.

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An aerial view of a body of water.