January 25, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Forum tackles Bend’s water project

Feb 23, 2011

January 25, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Forum tackles Bend’s water project

Forum tackles Bend’s water project

Experts from wide range of fields discuss city’s plan

By Nick Grube / The Bulletin
Published: January 25. 2011 4:00AM PST

Experts in fields ranging from natural resources economics to engineering debated the potential impacts of the city of Bend’s $58 million to $78 million reconstruction of its Bridge Creek water system Monday night during a forum at the Oregon State University-Cascades campus.

Much of their discussion centered on the Bridge Creek project and how it compared with the alternative of switching to all wells and what the choices might look like for both Tumalo Creek and Bend’s future carbon footprint.

Panelist Ryan Houston, the executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, said if the city abandoned its surface water supply, the amount of flow in Tumalo Creek below Shevlin Park during late summer would be tripled as it makes its way to the middle Deschutes River.

This could have positive impacts on temperatures in both waterways — neither of which meet state water quality standards for temperatures — and therefore improve fish habitat. Tumalo Falls, located about 10 miles west of Bend, would also likely have more water flowing down it because the city would no longer need to pipe water from Tumalo Creek above the falls into Bridge Creek, which is something that is done today.

“There could be a significant change in lower Tumalo Creek,” Houston said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a good or a bad project. That’s just one slice of it ... that should be considered.”

A natural resources economist from OSU-Cascades, Bruce Aylward, calculated the costs of the extra water that would be left in Tumalo Creek if the city did decide to abandon its surface water. The figure he came up with was $15 million after he compared it to other conservation projects.

He said during the forum that he added this figure to an analysis the city’s consulting firm, HDR Engineering Inc., performed to compare the long-term costs of surface water to groundwater.

Based on his analysis, and also updating some of the firm’s assumptions that didn’t account for things like opportunity costs — or the value of one dollar spent today versus one spent 50 years from now — he said HDR’s analysis didn’t “pencil out” and overestimated the savings surface water had over groundwater.

“Once you include the value of the environmental asset and the water asset, you’re indifferent between surface water and groundwater,” Aylward said.

City officials, including City Engineer Tom Hickmann and Bend City Councilor Mark Capell, also had the chance to defend the decision to reconstruct the Bridge Creek system.

Replacing pipelines

That project aims to replace aging pipelines, add a treatment facility to meet federal clean water mandates and possibility constructing a hydropower plant to generate revenue from energy production. Current cost estimates for this project range between $58 million, without the hydropower option, to $73 million with it.

According to the most recent estimates, rate increases current Bend water customers could be between 8.5 percent per year over the next five years to 9.1 percent per year over the next five years. For the typical user who pays $66.95 per month in the summer this would increase the monthly bill to $100.67 or $103.48 at the end of those five years.

City officials are currently in the midst of refining those rate increase estimates, and are extending the hikes over 10 years instead of five in an attempt to reduce the financial impacts to current water customers.

Carbon footprint

Hickmann and Capell both noted that by using gravity the surface water system the city will save money in the long-run for ratepayers because there won’t be as much money spent on pumping wells. The city currently gets about half of its annual water supply from wells.

But Hickmann also noted that while Bend’s surface water project has some impacts to the watershed, it can also reduce Bend’s carbon footprint. He estimated during Monday’s forum that the annual cost of pumping wells and not using surface water would equate to putting 12,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“We’re talking about trade-offs,” Hickmann said. “No matter what we do here, we’ll have impacts.”

The Bend City Council has already voted to proceed on the reconstruction of the Bridge Creek system, but has not made a decision yet on whether to pursue the hydropower component. That decision will likely come in February or March.

Monday’s forum was recorded as part of COTV’s Talk of the Town series. It will be available for viewing on BendBroadband Channel 11 starting Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Nick Grube can be reached at 541-633-2160 or at ngrube@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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