A close look at Bend’s Mirror Pond dam

The committee looking into what should be done with Mirror Pond got an up-close look at the leaking dam there Wednesday, joining representatives of Pacifi­Corp on a tour of the more than 100-year-old facility.

The ad hoc committee, formed last fall, includes representatives from the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and the general public. It will weigh in on the relative merits of dredging the pond, keeping the dam, which is owned by PacifiCorp, removing the dam and other alternatives.

The group’s tour came one day before a team of consultants hired by the park district is due to arrive in Bend to inspect the dam. PacifiCorp has been lowering the level of Mirror Pond in recent days to allow for a safe inspection, but water levels should be headed back up this weekend.

Jim Figurski, the head of the park district’s efforts on Mirror Pond-related matters, said the inspection should provide a better idea of what kind of maintenance costs the city or park district would have to bear if they were to acquire the dam from Pacifi­Corp. PacifiCorp has committed to repairing a hole that opened up in the dam last fall, dropping water levels to nearly 7 feet below seasonal normals, but is looking to divest itself of the dam as a generation facility.

“Part of the analysis is what would we need to do for a 50-year or more fix, not just a 10-year fix or a near-term fix,” Figurski said.

He expects the consultants will have a complete report for the committee by the end of the month.

On the back deck of the powerhouse, members of the tour group learned Wednesday how the gates at the base of the dam can be manipulated to control how much water flows out, allowing the dam operator to maintain Mirror Pond at a consistent elevation.

They peeked into buckets of bottles, cans and old tennis balls that are scattered across the dam property, all of them retrieved from the pond above the dam with the help of a long-handled net.

Descending a ladder to a wide lawn hemmed in by the dam on the upstream side and barbed wire on the downstream side, the group examined a now rarely used gate at the north edge of the spillway, where boards can be removed to discharge ice and debris into a crudely constructed rock and concrete sluice gate.

Water seeps through several points along the concrete dam face, nourishing thick cushions of moss sprouting from the stained walls, and as suggested by the footprints dotting the mud below, a handful of raccoons and other small animals that find their way through the fences.

Mark Tallman, vice president of renewable resources for PacifiCorp, said the seepage is a cosmetic problem more than a safety issue.

“The dam is just like a drafty house, it’s just old,” he said.

Visitors donned fireproof suits before venturing inside the powerhouse, where three large generating wheels sat idle Wednesday on account of the lowered water levels. When turning, the three generators can produce enough electricity to power 300 to 400 homes.

Tallman told tour members the powerhouse is still potentially dangerous even when the generators aren’t spinning due to a live power line running across the ceiling that — under the right circumstances — can throw off high-voltage arcs. The controls for the adjacent substation are also inside the powerhouse, Tallman said, cautioning the visitors to avoid touching any of the equipment.

“It is possible, if you accidentally touch or move the wrong handle, you could put Bend in the dark,” he said.

Scott Wallace, a member of the park district board and a member of the ad hoc committee, said he expects the behind-the-scenes tour will prove useful once the engineering report is complete. Until Wednesday, Wallace said he only had a hazy idea of what went on at the Mirror Pond dam.

“I grew up in Bend, and this is the closest I’ve ever come to the powerhouse,” he said.

City Councilor and committee member Victor Chudowsky said he was impressed by the architecture of the powerhouse. If the city or the park district acquires the dam someday, it would be ideal if the powerhouse could be preserved, he said, possibly as some kind of small museum where visitors could learn about how electricity is generated and about a notable piece of Bend history.

Chudowsky said the tour confirmed much of what he already knew — that the dam is old, and in places, starting to fail. Though its days as a power generation facility may be numbered, the dam may still be the easiest and least expensive way to preserve Mirror Pond into the future, he said.

“Really, what we need to be deciding is, is this an asset or a liability, then go from there,” Chudowsky said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

Mirror Pond dropping again Monday

The water behind the Newport Avenue Dam should start dropping Monday, allowing crews from PacifiCorp to inspect the leak that’s turned much of Mirror Pond into a mudflat.

The company that owns and operates the downtown Bend dam discovered the leak Oct. 2. Water levels in Mirror Pond dropped by roughly 2 feet in the days that followed as water drained through the leak. The pond then rebounded briefly as water managers upstream adjusted flows in the Deschutes River to prepare for the end of irrigation season. The water level has since receded a second time, stabilizing at around 2 feet below its typical winter level. PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the company now plans to draw down the water even further in order to get a better look at the damaged area starting Monday.

Gravely said it’s unclear how far the water will have to come down to allow crews to inspect the leak.

“We don’t know exactly. What’s going to happen is, our folks will be at the dam monitoring it, and there will come a time when they say, ‘We can do this now,'” he said.

Under state law, if a water release from a dam is likely to create excessive turbidity — suspended silt — downstream, the dam operator must seek permission from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Eric Nigg, water quality manager for the DEQ Bend office, said his office granted PacifiCorp permission to lower water levels under a provision that allows violations of the state’s turbidity standards under narrowly defined standards.

In consultation with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the DEQ settled on allowing PacifiCorp to drain the pond at a rate of 2 inches per hour, and refill it at a rate of 4 inches per hour. Nigg said the “ramp rate,” as it’s called, should minimize downstream turbidity and the risk that fish could be stranded by rapidly falling water. The utility had originally requested a ramp rate of 6 inches per hour both for lowering and raising the water level, Nigg said.

Under the conditions set by DEQ, PacifiCorp will be monitoring turbidity levels and any fish stranding during its operations.

Gravely said PacifiCorp suspects the risk to fish and other wildlife is minimal.

“We don’t think it’s very likely here at all,” he said. “The pond, it’s already down, and this will be done so gradually we don’t think it’s very likely.”

Gravely said the draw down of water is likely to take two to three days, while actual inspection is expected to last about eight hours. Any repairs to the dam are likely to occur at a later date, which would necessitate another draw down of water levels.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Inspection of Newport dam at least a week away

The corporation that owns Newport Avenue Dam does not expect to begin its inspection of a recently discovered leak for at least another week, a PacifiCorp spokesman said Thursday.

Spokesman Bob Gravely said the company is still working its way through regulatory matters and developing a plan for safely lowering water levels to allow inspectors access to the dam. Mirror Pond, the body of water at the heart of Bend, should remain at or near its current level — about two feet below normal, until the hole is fixed.

“I think this leak is such that with the flows as they are — and as is kind of typical for this time of year — we don’t think we can raise the water level without doing something about the leak,” Gravely said. “It is a bit like the drain in the bathtub effect; if the drain is open, you can only get so much water in the bathtub.”

PacifiCorp, a multi-state utility that operates in Oregon as Pacific Power, has patched smaller holes in the dam three times in the last five years. Past repairs were made by bolting a large piece of metal over the hole; a technique called sheet pile, Gravely said. Sheet pile is effective, he said, and a sheet pile fix would allow PacifiCorp to resume hydroelectric generation. But with the dam now more than 100 years old, continued age-related deterioration is likely, he said.

“It sounds easy enough to go fix this, but we could be right back here in eight months or a year and a half from now,” he said. “It’s the roof analogy: How long do you keep patching leaks in the roof before you take a look at (replacing) the roof.”

Gravely declined to estimate the cost of repairing the latest hole, how long it would take PacifiCorp to make the decision or complete the repairs.

Along with extensive mudflats along the river channel, the lower water has exposed the poor condition of the rock walls marking the typical high water line. Jim Figurski with the Bend Park & Recreation District said the crumbling walls present a potential safety hazard.

“We’re evaluating the conditions there and looking at it. And if there’s a decision it’s really unsafe, it’ll probably get taped off,” he said. “But, we haven’t made that determination yet. “

Figurski, who has been heading up the park district portion of the larger community conversation about silt accumulation in Mirror Pond, said nearly every proposal under consideration calls for removing most of the rock wall along the edge of Drake Park in order to create a more natural riverbank. The walls are not well built, he said. And in some locations have allowed water to seep in beneath nearby footpaths. Earlier this year, the park district tore up paver bricks along a long section of the path that had become buckled due to water seepage, Figurski said.

Although PacifiCorp’s long-term plans for the dam are still unknown, the park district has been exploring the possibility of a water rights transfer that could allow the dam to remain, even if the utility abandons power generation at the site. Figurski said although PacifiCorp’s water rights require the dam be used to produce electricity, the park district has asked state agencies about a modification that would allow the dam to remain solely for the purpose of maintaining Mirror Pond.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Dam leak adds twist to pond debate

Water levels in Mirror Pond are expected to drop in the coming days, as PacifiCorp inspects a leak discovered in the Newport Avenue Dam.

Bob Gravely, spokesman for the utility company, said the leak is in one the 13 wooden “bays” visible from the Newport Avenue bridge. The company has previously repaired leaks in two other bays, he said, but the severity of the latest leak will not be apparent until water levels are lowered sufficiently to allow closer examination.

Water levels at the dam have already fallen approximately 21⁄2 inches due to the leak, Gravely said, and PacifiCorp has shut down its electrical generation turbine to maintain water levels upstream.

As of Friday evening, PacifiCorp was checking whether any permitting or regulatory obstacles prevent the company from dropping water levels to begin the work. The company has not yet determined how much water will have to be released, or how low water levels above the dam could drop.

The leak comes in the middle of a larger public process surrounding Mirror Pond, and what should be done to address silt that has accumulated on the floor of the pond in the 29 years since it was last dredged. In public meetings and online surveys conducted earlier in the year, community members were largely split. One faction supports dredging to maintain the pond, and another favors removing the dam to create something closer to a free-flowing river.

PacifiCorp has been involved in the discussions but has been noncommittal, other than to state the day will come when the dam is no longer economical to operate. In recent years, the dam has generated enough electricity to power 200-300 homes.

Gravely said that while the new leak does not appear to be significant, PacifiCorp intends a thorough inspection of the entire dam while water levels are lowered to look for any other emerging maintenance issues.

“It is 100 years old, and I think we’ve been saying we could be one repair away from this not being worth it to fix,” he said.

Don Horton, director of the Bend Park & Recreation District, said he won’t know until PacifiCorp has completed its work if the leak will change the discussion of what to do with Mirror Pond. Horton is one member of an ad-hoc committee that has been gathering information from PacifiCorp to report back to the Bend City Council and the park district board with a recommendation for Mirror Pond. He said the leak will, at minimum, give him and others involved in the process a preview of what a free-flowing river might look like.

“If it does come down, it’s an opportunity for us to photograph what we see — it’s not very often this happens — we may be able to learn something from it,” he said.

Horton said he’s curious to see if opening the sluice gates to lower water levels will actually flush out significant quantities of silt, though he added he’s doubtful that will happen.

Spencer Dahl, a past member of the Mirror Pond Management Board, said he’d prefer to know what the undammed river looks like when flows are not already reduced on account of the end of irrigation season, but is still interested to see what areas dry up when the water levels drop.

During his time on the board, Dahl unsuccessfully tried to persuade PacifiCorp to drop water levels in order to show the public what the area might look like if the dam were removed.

Dahl said he suspects the announcement of the leak — Gravely said the leak was discovered Wednesday; Dahl said he’s noticed the bay in question leaking for much longer — suggests PacifiCorp may be ready to take a firmer public position on their plans for the dam.

“I’m pretty sure its a move toward resolution of the Mirror Pond problem, whether it’s them selling the dam or them trying to justify abandoning it,” Dahl said. “I can’t see any other reason for the timing, because that leak’s been there for months, if not years.”

Gravely said water levels during dam repairs could be further affected by activity at Wickiup Dam, where water managers have begun refilling the reservoir by cutting back on the water released into the Deschutes River. Within the last week, releases at Wickiup Dam have been reduced by more than half, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Mirror Pond survey closed

Bend Park and Recreation officials expect to share on Tuesday the results of an online survey aimed at gauging public opinion on the future of Mirror Pond.

Access to the online questionnaire closed Friday. The results are expected to be aired publicly at a joint meeting of the Bend City Council and the Bend Park & Recreation District Board of Directors.

A late surge in participation pushed the number of completed questionnaires to more than 1,200, according to Jim Figurski, a consultant hired by the park district to help determine what to do about siltation in Mirror Pond. As recently as June 25 — about three weeks after the online questionnaire was activated — just 210 people had participated.

The questionnaire provided seven scenarios along with rough cost estimates and the benefits and drawbacks of each, from doing nothing, to removing the dam downstream of the Newport Bridge and allowing the river to find its own course, to dredging to deepen the pond. Because the dam slows the river current at Mirror Pond, suspended silt and other particles drop out of the water and accumulate on the bottom. The warmer, shallower water provides substandard fish habitat, and allows aquatic plants to take hold.

Figurski said while the results he’ll be sharing Tuesday are not as accurate a measure of public opinion as a formal poll, the participation level suggests the City Council and the park board will have meaningful information to consider.

“If it were that original number, I would have been disappointed and a bit more nervous about it. I think the fact we reached 1,224 people is a good sign and will certainly give decision makers a little more comfort in taking whatever information they want to take from the questionnaire,” he said.

Bend Mayor Jim Clinton is looking forward to seeing the questionnaire results, but said the results shouldn’t be interpreted as a vote on how to proceed.

“The questionnaire itself is one part of a much bigger program to figure out what to do about Mirror Pond,” Clinton said. “It’s not the controlling part or even necessarily the most important part. It was intended, I think in my mind, to get more people thinking about the different options.”

Clinton said that over the last 10 years, the idea of doing something about Mirror Pond has been discussed, the “dredge it and be done with it” has diminished in popularity, as support for a flowing river has risen. Though both camps still dominate the discussion, Clinton said the public process has helped expose the complexity of the issue and the drawbacks of “simplistic solutions.”

“It continues to be a polarized issue where each person has their own way of looking at it, and over the period I’ve been involved in it, people are now maybe thinking about it in a more comprehensive and realistic way than they might have been looking at it before,” he said.

Park district Chairman Scott Wallace could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Clinton said he’s hopeful the city, park district and other stakeholder groups can be in agreement by the end of the year, with a broadly supported plan, estimates of how much it might cost and where funding could be found, and a loose timeline for moving forward.

Figurski said he will be providing information rather than making any recommendations to the City Council and the park board on Tuesday. He said he anticipates another round of public outreach in September once a preferred alternative on how to proceed is identified.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Overseer is named for Colorado dam project

The first major project funded under last year’s Bend Park & Recreation District bond measure took a step forward Tuesday, with the district’s board of directors hiring a contractor to oversee the construction of the Colorado Avenue Dam safe passage through completion.

Hamilton Construction of Springfield was awarded a construction manager/general contractor contract, an arrangement that will have Hamilton working closely with state and federal regulatory agencies and the engineers designing the project over the next several months. Once the design is set and regulatory issues are addressed, Hamilton will provide the district with a guaranteed maximum price for construction of the project.

The project will convert the area into a three-channel system with separate areas designed for safe passage, whitewater play and a wildlife/fish corridor.

Tuesday’s bid award grants Hamilton $52,900, while the overall estimated cost of the safe passage project is estimated at $7.3 million. The project is expected to break ground in spring 2014 and be completed by spring 2015.

Chelsea Schneider with the park district told the board Hamilton will work with local contractor Jack Robinson and Sons for the duration of the project. By being involved from the design stage onward, Hamilton will be able to monitor the design and engineering of the project to ensure it can be constructed safely and on budget, she said.

“There’s unknowns now, and we felt we needed them on board to help guide what direction the design goes,” Schneider said.

Park district director Don Horton said views differ as to whether the CM/GC style of bidding a project is less expensive than going out for competitive bids at every stage of the process. However, in the case of the safe passage project, Horton said there is a risk that if design and engineering were to proceed without input from a contractor, the construction bids solicited at the end of that process could come in well over budget.

The award of the bid for the dam project came on the same night the board approved the district’s overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Like most governments in Oregon, the park district’s budget year begins on July 1 and ends June 30.

Due to the passage of last year’s $29 million bond and adjustments to reserve funds, the 2013-14 budget totals $72 million, as compared with last year’s $34 million budget. Most of the bond funds will not be spent during the upcoming year, however, and will remain in district accounts as the district works its way through the list of projects approved by voters.

The district expects to spend 8 percent more than last year. That doesn’t count bond-related funds and money generated through systems development charges (known as SDCs) assessed against new construction.

Much of the additional cost expected in the coming year is due to staffing increases that replace some of the positions cut in recent years. Park district staff declined from 92 full-time positions in 2009-10 to 83 in the current budget year; next year’s budget creates four new full-time positions.

Park district staff will be required to start chipping in to fund their health and retirement benefits, both of which have been significant drivers of the district’s personnel costs in recent years.

Beginning in the upcoming budget year, full-time employees will begin paying 10 percent of their health insurance premiums and 25 percent of the premiums for their dependents — currently, the district picks up 100 percent of health insurance premiums for full-time employees, and such employees pay 20 percent of their dependents’ premiums.

Similar changes are in store for retirement benefits provided under the state’s Public Employees Retirement System.

On top of its own obligations to the PERS system, the district has also historically paid each employee’s obligation, an amount equal to 6 percent of each employee’s salary. Under the new district budget, employees would begin paying their own obligations, starting with 1 percent of salary and increasing by 1 percent per year over the next six years. New employees hired after July 1 would pay their full 6 percent obligation upon meeting PERS eligibility.

Employees are slated to receive cost of living increases of 1.6 percent and merit-based pay increases of up to 3 percent.

Due to a rebound in residential construction, the district expects revenue from SDCs to jump 27 percent in the upcoming year. Funds generated from SDCs are used to expand park facilities to accommodate the influx of new residents.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Mirror Pond future down to 4 options

The group responsible for finding a solution to silt buildup in Mirror Pond has settled on four options, and is expected to be ready to present the public with a look at the possibilities early next month.

Tuesday, the Mirror Pond Management Board picked its four options from a list of eight developed by GreenWorks, a Portland-based landscape architecture firm that has been studying the situation the last several months.

The options include doing nothing, allowing the pond to continue filling with silt but potentially damaging views, water quality and recreational opportunities. A dredging-heavy option similar to the dredging performed in 1984 is also on the list, as is a partial dredging, in which much of the sediment dredged up would be left on-site to create new areas of dry land.

The final option calls for the removal of the Newport Avenue Dam — a choice which would require the cooperation of PacifiCorp, the dam’s owner — and some in-stream work to manage existing sediment and possibly develop a fixed river channel.

Jim Figurski, a consultant working with the Bend Park & Recreation District to oversee the operations of the management board and the public outreach process, said he hopes to have detailed illustrations of what each of the alternatives might look like and rough cost estimates ready in time public open houses planned for June.

Though detailed cost estimates are still a few weeks out, GreenWorks offered management board some idea what it might cost to dredge and remove silt from the pond, placing the price at between $30 and $50 per cubic yard. The estimate, Figurski said, reflects the cost of vacuuming silt off the bottom, pumping it to a nearby location where the silt can be spread out and dried, and disposing of it.

At the estimated price, it would cost between $1.8 million and $3 million to duplicate the 1984 dredging of 60,000 cubic yards of silt, which was done for $312,000.

The pond is currently estimated to contain 380,000 cubic yards of silt, up from the 350,000 cubic yards estimated to be on the bottom prior to the 1984 dredging.

Figurski said dredging all of the sediment from Mirror Pond was never really on the table. As GreenWorks begins filling in the details of the dredging-oriented options, their goal will be to find the “sweet spot,” Figurski said, how much sediment would need to be removed from where in the pond to put off additional dredging as long as possible.

Ryan Houston, director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and a member of the management board, said figuring out how much to dredge — if dredging is to be the solution — is a tricky proposition.

The more sediment you dredge from a river, the slower the water will move, Houston said, and the slower the water moves, the more sediment falls out of suspension and begins piling up on the bottom.

“Taking out twice as much sediment will not necessarily get you twice as much time,” Houston said.

The partial sediment removal option would use sediment dredged from the bottom to create shallows or dry land, Figurski said, most likely around the islands in the upper part of Mirror Pond or on the western Harmon Park side. Doing so should not alter the views enjoyed by any of the private property owners along the edge of the pond, he said.

However, the material — characterized as “goo” in the GreenWorks reports — would not stay in place without reinforcement, Figurski said. The option would likely involve bringing in large rocks to stabilize the artificial banks and hold the dredged material in place.

“It would be as natural looking as we could make it,” he said. “There’s no need for it to be a concrete-lined channel.

Houston said he finds the partial removal option intriguing, as the wetlands it could create could help neutralize contaminants that are currently being emptied into the bond through a series of storm drains.

Spencer Dahl, a management board member representing the Old Bend Neighborhood Association, voted against moving forward with the four options.

Dahl said aside from the do nothing option, none of the alternatives met the group’s goal of finding a fix with limited long-term maintenance costs.

The dam removal with channel building option is more of a “canal building project,” Dahl said, recalling the strong support for a free-flowing river expressed in surveys conducted by the management board and his neighborhood association.

“There was a large number of people who wanted the river returned to a more natural state,” Dahl said. “For those guys, the river rats and old hippies, for those guys when you take out the dam only to replace it with a mile-long man-made canal, it kind of defeats the purpose of going natural.”

Figurski said its difficult to know what might happen if the dam were removed, whether that’s through the dam removal alternative on the management board’s list, or as a result of future action by PacifiCorp.

Aerial photos show the river has established a channel that has remained reasonably consistent over the last several years, he said, but it’s unclear if an un-dammed river would erode its way down to the underlying bedrock, or where that bedrock is.

Depending on the course chosen by an un-dammed river, it could be desirable to remove sediment currently on the bottom of the pond, or to create an artificial channel unlikely to change significantly over the longer term, Figurski said.

Each of the three options beyond the “do nothing” option are quite similar in terms of the regulatory hurdles that would need to be cleared to proceed, Figurski said.

Dahl said without greater certainty from PacifiCorp on what it plans for the dam are, both dredging options are premature.

“If we’re going to bank on it being there and spend millions of dollars to dredge or designer dredge, we need some kind of guarantee that it’s going to be there,” he said.

Houston said none of the alternatives selected by him and his fellow board members were particularly surprising, and that the board could well have arrived at the same four choices months ago before the public outreach process began. However, board’s consideration and rejection of other options — one of the final eight possibilities called for dam removal with no sediment management, another for the partial removal of the dam and the construction of stepped water terraces — should streamline the process from here forward, Houston said.

“The fact they were uncovered, they were brought to the surface, that at least means the probability of these coming up at the 11th hour and throwing a wrench in to the process, I think that probability is less,” he said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Future hazy for dam below Mirror Pond

Newport Avenue Dam, located on the Deschutes River, is under scrutiny as officials consider what should be done about the silt buildup in Mirror Pond.
Newport Avenue Dam, located on the Deschutes River, is under scrutiny as officials consider what should be done about the silt buildup in Mirror Pond.

The Newport Avenue Dam could be one significant repair bill away from being shut down for good, according to a spokesman for the utility that operates the dam.

Now 100 years old, the dam brought Central Oregon its first electricity, creating Mirror Pond along the way. The dam’s future has been placed in the spotlight through a Bend Park & Recreation District-led process to determine what should be done about the silt that has been slowly filling Mirror Pond since it was last dredged in 1984.

PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the dam can be compared to an older car a family might keep around as backup transportation.

“It is the second car — as long as you’re not rebuilding the engine, it’s worth your while to keep driving, but when the mechanic gives you a $3,000 bill for your car, it’s time to reconsider,” he said. “That’s how we view the situation right now.”

Gravely said he couldn’t say how much money PacifiCorp would be willing to put in to keeping the dam running if repairs became necessary.

For now, he said the company is following the local discussion of options for Mirror Pond while trying not to exert undue influence on the process.

“In general, I would say that right now it remains economical to operate for customers,” Gravley said. “But, it is 100 years old, and we’re continuing to make sure it’s safe and all of that. … It would be hard to see any kind of major capital investment being made that would allow it to continue being economical.”

Electricity output

With a generation capacity of 1.1 megawatts, the Newport Avenue Dam is the smallest of the six hydroelectric power plants operated by PacifiCorp, providing just more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total power potential of the company’s hydro system.

Because hydroelectric plants do not typically generate power all day, every day, capacity figures overstate their actual production. Power output is measured in megawatt hours (MWh), a calculation of the actual electricity generated reached by multiplying the capacity with the number of hours the turbines are turning. With consistent water supplies, a 1.1 MW facility like the Newport Avenue Dam running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year would produce 9,636 MWh of electricity.

Generation figures shared by the company indicate the Newport Avenue Dam produced 3,344 MWh in 2012 and 2,115 MWh in 2011, down from the long-term historical average of 4,106 MWh. Using the U.S. Department of Energy standard that places the average household’s annual electricity consumption at 11,280 kilowatts, the dam’s total output supplied power for 296 homes last year, and 188 the year before.

According to the Oregon Public Utility Commission, the average PacifiCorp residential customer pays 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour. At that rate, the Newport Avenue Dam would have generated an income of $228,420 for PacifiCorp in 2012, not counting any costs associated with transmission, administration or maintenance.

Steve Johnson, the manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said those kinds of dollar figures suggest it wouldn’t take much for PacifiCorp to give up on the Newport Avenue Dam as a power source.

The irrigation district operates two hydroelectric generators of its own, one on a canal intake near Mt. Bachelor Village and one on its canal between Bend and Redmond that together generate roughly 10 times the power of the Newport Avenue Dam.

“It’s only real value now is, it creates Mirror Pond,” Johnson said. “I think PacifiCorp is just gonna follow along with what the community does, but if the community wants that dam removed, the community is gonna pay for it. PacifiCorp ain’t gonna pay for that.”

Possible changes

If PacifiCorp were to give up on generating power at the Newport Avenue Dam, it’s likely the dam would have to come down as well. The state permit under which the dam is operated gives PacifiCorp the right to impound the river for power generation — and, interestingly, debris removal and ice production — but not recreational purposes like creating a pond.

Jim Figurski, a consultant working with the park district to draw up plans for how to address the silt issue at Mirror Pond, said the Oregon Water Resources Department has assured him it wouldn’t rush dam removal were PacifiCorp to give up on power generation, but could be forced to act if a private citizen or group were to raise the issue.

Mary Grainey from the Oregon Water Resources Department’s hydroelectric division said PacifiCorp would have the option of selling or transferring its water rights — again, only for hydroelectric generation, debris removal or ice production — or the rights would revert back to the state.

Grainey said PacifiCorp would have up to five years to transfer its water rights to another user or the state. Alternatively, the company or another party that received the water rights through a transfer could appeal to the Water Resources Commission to create a recreational or aesthetic water right, Grainey said, adding such rights are typically only granted for smaller waterways on private property.

Figurski said he doesn’t think a push to create a recreational water right is likely to succeed.

“I think the recreational components in most places were secondary to flood control, irrigation, power generation,” Figurski said. “To create a new water right, you would be starting from scratch and would be subject to all the new regulations.”

If hydroelectric generation were to come to an end and the dam were somehow allowed to remain in place with a new water right, it’s likely state regulators would require the dam’s owner to address fish passage. Johnson estimated screens to keep fish from being sucked through the dam and a fish ladder for upstream travel could run $1 million to $2 million at the Newport Avenue Dam.

Were PacifiCorp to continue generating power but wish to make significant modifications to the dam, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could require it be re-licensed — PacifiCorp was allowed to opt out of FERC licensing in 1996 — triggering the need to install fish passage and meet other modern regulatory requirements.

Gravely said that although he can’t be certain what would happen were FERC to require the dam be re-licensed, the costs associated with a pending license renewal have led to the removal of many older dams across the Northwest. Still, he said it’s hard to guess when PacifiCorp might decide operating the dam is more trouble than its worth.

“It’s 100 years old. We believe it’s much closer to the end of its viability than the beginning,” he said.

‘There will be a reaction’

Figurski said he can understand why PacifiCorp is trying to avoid dominating the discussion over Mirror Pond, even if what becomes of the dam could alter Mirror Pond as much or more than any of the dredging or channel-building now under consideration.

“I think they’re being pretty conservative,” he said. “Because they could obviously be driving this process, and say ‘We’re going to take the dam out; you guys do whatever.’”

On April 30, members of the Mirror Pond Management Board will see preliminary illustrations of various options for addressing the silt buildup in the pond. Figurski said the board will see a no-dam scenario, a scenario that preserves the traditional look of Mirror Pond, and a number of middle options that ideally could be implemented with or without the Newport Avenue Dam.

Figurski said one of the clearest messages he took from a questionnaire on Mirror Pond earlier this year was the public’s desire to find an approach that will enhance the area upstream of the dam, regardless of how long the dam remains — and ideally, won’t be completely undone if the dam is removed.

“I don’t think the idea is you wouldn’t have to do anything if the dam comes out, but how do you not lose everything you’ve done,” he said. “If and when the dam goes away, there will be a reaction. Let’s minimize what we have to do at that point.”

Related article: Future clouded for Mirror Pond dam

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Mirror Pond options in the works

Members of the Mirror Pond Management Board got a preview Wednesday of the next phase in the effort to find a solution for the silt accumulating in Mirror Pond.

Wednesday’s meeting came on the heels of a questionnaire examining what local residents believe to be important in terms of Mirror Pond’s future.

Nearly 1,900 people answered the questionnaire.

It did not ask participants what they would like done to address siltation, but the survey exposed a split between those who would like to see the pond remain a pond and those who would prefer a free-flowing river by removing the Newport Avenue dam.

Jim Figurski, a consultant hired through the Bend Park & Recreation District to oversee the project, told management board members the process of preparing four designs depicting what Mirror Pond could look like in the future is under way.

Board members should expect a first look at the four alternatives in mid-May, Figurski said, with the public weighing in on the possibilities — including projected short-term and long-term costs — by mid-June.

Demonstrating a prototype of the online questionnaire he expects to use during the next round of community input, Figurski pulled up an image of present-day Mirror Pond on a screen. He said the questionnaire program he intends to use will allow respondents to highlight those elements they like or dislike in illustrations that will be created to represent the four alternatives, allowing them to “vote” up or down on things like a sandy beach, a pier or aquatic vegetation.

Figurski said he thinks it’s likely those who participate in the process this summer will find things they like about several of the alternatives.

“I’m optimistic. I think people will be pleasantly surprised by what we’re able to achieve with each of the alternatives,” he said.

Board member Ryan Houston said he was concerned the four alternatives — currently labeled as “do nothing,” “habitat focus,” “river focus” and “recreation focus” — would present questionnaire participants with false choices. The park district has done a good job of developing riverfront properties that provide a benefit to river health and recreational users, he said, and the district’s record should be considered as the alternatives are being created.

Spencer Dahl, board member and chairman of the Old Bend Neighborhood Association, asked fellow board member Angela Price of Pacific Power if it would be possible to open the sluice gates of the Newport Avenue dam so locals could see how the river might respond if the dam were removed. Board member Peter Werner asked Price if the utility would agree to remove the dam if a community consensus for doing so emerged, and if so, how long it would take.

Price said she was unable to answer either question.

City Councilor and board member Victor Chudowsky encouraged Figurski and others working to develop the four alternatives to remember that any changes to Mirror Pond would likely affect the river upstream, possibly as far as the Colorado Avenue dam.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Opinions expressed on future of pond

Results are in for a Mirror Pond questionnaire

Bend residents appear to be split down the middle on whether Mirror Pond should remain a pond or be transformed into a free-flowing river, according to the results of a questionnaire released Friday.

Nearly 1,900 people completed the online questionnaire created by the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, a group assembled by the Bend City Council in 2009 to determine what, if anything, should be done to address silt that has been accumulating in the pond since it was last dredged in 1984.

Project manager Jim Figurski stressed that the results are not scientific. Statistically valid surveys use random sampling to discern the opinions of the larger community; while the questionnaire participants opted into the process by visiting the mirrorpondbend .com website and electing to complete the 18-item questionnaire.

Survey participants were disproportionately from the northwest quadrant of the city — 46 percent — and primarily long-time residents of Bend. Just 18 percent of participants reported having lived in Bend five years or less, while 27 percent have lived here 10-20 years and 36 percent for 20 years or longer.

“We’re not extrapolating this to all of Bend. These are the values of those who participated in the questionnaire,” he said.

The questionnaire was developed to determine what residents value about Mirror Pond and how they use it — as opposed to what ought to be done in the future. Where participants could weigh in on the pond versus river question, a sharp split emerged.

At public meetings and in comments submitted by questionnaire participants, a significant number of people have called for removing the Newport Avenue Dam that created Mirror Pond more than 100 years ago. By most estimates, the dam generates electricity for fewer than 500 homes, and Pacific Power representatives have said the company is not necessarily committed to leaving the dam in place long-term.

Asked if Mirror Pond should look like it did before the dam was built, 51 percent of questionnaire participants placed themselves in the strongly agree or agree column, while 49 percent opted for strongly disagree or disagree.

In another segment of the questionnaire, participants were asked to rank four photographs of different sections of the Deschutes River in order of preference — most attractive, attractive, somewhat attractive and least attractive.

An image of rapids that appears to be upstream of Bend — Figurski said he’s not sure of the location — ranked highest, with 40 percent rating it most attractive and 33 percent attractive. A present-day image of Mirror Pond resembling the Mirror Pond Pale Ale label came in second, with 37 percent choosing most attractive and 18 percent attractive.

Rapids near Sawyer Park ranked third, with 15 percent most attractive and 35 percent attractive, while a shot of the area upstream from the Colorado Dam was last, with 9 percent giving it most attractive marks and 14 percent opting for attractive.

The questionnaire also found broad agreement on a handful of matters.

Just 28 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the idea that “the water in Mirror Pond is very clean,” while 91 percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed with the idea “water quality in Mirror Pond should be improved.”

Present-day Mirror Pond is regarded as “beautiful to look at” by 86 percent of respondents, while 83 percent agreed or strongly agreed it is a good place to watch birds, ducks, geese, otters and other wildlife.

Addressed more specifically, ducks and geese did poorly in the eyes of questionnaire participants. Just 1 percent of respondents ranked geese and ducks in the pond and the park as the feature they value the most, while 39 percent put geese and ducks as the feature they value least.

Figurski said consultants working with the steering committee are planning on creating four alternative visions of the area in the future. He expects they will be ready to share illustrations as well as cost estimates with the public by late April.

Each of the alternative visions will be designed to be functional whether or not the dam remains in place, Figurski said, and will be presented to the public in two parts to reflect dammed and un-dammed scenarios.

Figurski said the group responsible for drafting the alternatives will be “walking a tightrope” due to the divide between the maintain-the-pond and let-the-river flow factions. But he expects it will create designs that appeal to members of both groups.

“Because people haven’t seen the alternatives yet, people think its an all-or-nothing thing,” he said. “It’s not, it doesn’t have to be.”

Mirror Pond questionnaire

The Mirror Pond Steering Committee’s questionnaire, posted online, invited Bend residents to answer 18 general questions about Mirror Pond. It is not scientific; it is the results from 1,817 people who chose to visit the website and answer the questions. Here are some of the responses.

Who responded 
• Many of the respondents (36 percent) have lived in Bend for more than 20 years.
• Almost half (46 percent) live on the city’s northwest side.

About the pond 
• Almost half (44 percent) visit the pond at least once a month.
• More than half (59 percent) think the pond symbolizes the quality of life in Bend.
• Walking is the most popular activity at the pond (87 percent).
• Few (28 percent) think the water is clean.
• There’s an almost even split on whether having geese and ducks at the park is “good” (47 percent yes, 53 percent no). But more people (39 percent) identified the geese as the least valued aspect of the pond over anything else.

The pond’s future 
• Few (10 percent) want to see more boating or fishing opportunities.
• About half (51 percent) think the pond should look as it did before the dam was built.
• More (53 percent) want all of the silt removed, changing the shape of the river channel and pond. Fewer (42 percent) want the silt removed, repeated as needed to keep the pond as it is now.
• Few want nothing done (12 percent).

The full results can be found at mirrorpondbend.com.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013