Think Outside the Pond

When it comes to the future of the man-made pond backed up behind an old hydroelectric dam in downtown, the Bend City Council stacked the deck by appointing a Mirror Pond Management Board rather than a Deschutes River Reclamation Board to guide us.

The name alone suggests the inherent bias that’s now given us as skewed a survey as we’ve ever seen marched out for legitimate purposes. The survey, which can be found at, is ostensibly designed to gauge public opinion on what to do about the pond, which is now laden with silt.

For instance, the survey asks how strongly you agree with statements like “Mirror Pond is beautiful to look at” and in the meantime minimizes the option many in the community heartily endorse: Restoring the Deschutes to an actual river with healthy stream flows and riparian habitat alongside areas for recreation.

This is unacceptable.

We believe the board will likely use the results of this bogus survey to prop up a save-the-pond movement. To avert this, we recommend you take the survey and rely heavily on the write-in-your-own-answer-here options.

Where it asks what aspects of Bend the pond symbolizes, you might suggest “Our forebears’ obtuse quest to dominate nature.” Where it lists options for dealing with siltation, consider “Removing the dam.” And when it asks how you’d allocate $10 toward an array of actions, you might put it all toward “Let our river flow!”

Let’s emphatically reject the tired notion that Mirror Pond symbolizes Bend the way the Gateway Arch symbolizes St. Louis. A good symbol for 21st-century Bend would be something dynamic and vital, a naturally flowing river with rapids, boulders, plants and wildlife.

You should also weigh in at one of the board’s forums, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, and next Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Bend Park & Recreation District Offices at 799 SW Columbia St. While you’re at the mic, give the board the boot for trying to manipulate and confine public thinking on the issue instead of forthrightly declaring its openness to a fresh approach.

Source: The Source Weekly

Wildness Mirrors Community’s Deepest Values, Not a Pond

Mirror Pond is a vanishing mirage. The body of water adored as an icon of Bend—its crystalline surface reflecting pine trees and snow-capped mountains—exists only on the city’s stylized logo.

The logo romanticizes a shallow, man-made puddle off Drake Park, a deepening heap of mud over which a clogged crook of the Deschutes River spreads out and collects dust as it drifts toward a 1910 hydroelectric dam.

Far from representing a community that lives in harmony with wilderness, Mirror Pond is a badly plumbed backyard water feature, a putrefying monument to the false dichotomy of humanity and nature. That water wants to flow.

Mirror Pond’s beauty was always superficial, the product of engineering aimed at subduing the savage river for civilized company. After decades of thickening with sediment running into the constricted river from a vast watershed and reservoir, the pond was dredged in 1984 at a cost of $312,000.

Today such an operation would cost $2 million to $5 million, members of the Mirror Pond Steering Committee estimate. If nothing is done, the rising silt will create acres of fetid mud flats. But if the community merely carves another pond basin, ongoing sedimentation will eventually require more rounds of exorbitantly costly dredging.

The steering committee, operating with $200,000 from the city and the Bend Park & Recreation District, is charged with choosing a solution and a way to pay for it. Options include dredging, upgrading the dam with a fish passage, removing the dam, and speeding up the river by narrowing its channel.

The committee plans to hire a consultant to produce renderings of the area under various scenarios. After asking the public which option it prefers, it would spend the bulk of its resources devising a plan to implement it.

That superficial approach assumes the community’s dominant value is maximum prettification and betrays the committee’s reluctance to confront an unhealthy attachment to this unnatural pond.

Since the committee must posit some working assumption to guide its initial expenditures, it should recognize that no one moves to Bend to settle into an Adirondack chair and admire a postcard image. People move here to live active lives amid natural beauty. Bend’s allure is precisely that it’s not removed from nature.

Bendites value wildness enough to conserve it. They get behind the movement to revive riparian ecosystems by removing dams and restoring natural channels. For the sake of coming generations, they want to know how stakeholders might work with water, soil and organisms to create an ecosystem that includes but does not submit to people.

The park district’s project manager, Jim Figurski, should get that. He prides himself on sustainable, environmentally responsible approaches to urban planning.

So should committee members Matt Shinderman, who teaches ecology and environmental policy at OSU-Cascades, and Bill Smith, whose company gave the stretch of the Deschutes running through the Old Mill District back to the people of the city as well as the wildlife that had been run off by yesterday’s lumber mills.

The committee must act from a courageous commitment to conservation. Instead of rubbing rouge on an outmoded icon, it should seek sound scientific guidance on restoring the ecological health from which genuine beauty emanates. Here’s a boot to get it moving in the right direction.

Source: The Source Weekly ©2013

Bend Parks Board’s Mirror Pond Play

Last week the Bend Parks Board wisely put the breaks on a plan to include a Mirror Pond management study in a proposed November bond request that includes a number of attractive projects, including the completion of the Bend River Trail through some key property acquisitions, the reconstruction of the perilous Colorado Avenue spillway and the construction of a seasonal ice rink on the former site of the Mt. Bachelor Park and Ride lot. The district, which owns much of the land around Mirror Pond in the form of Drake and Harmon parks was under a fair amount of pressure to take the lead on the Mirror Pond project.

We’re glad that they didn’t for several reasons.

First and foremost, the city and its supporters, led by the Mirror Pond Management Committee, have taken a deeply flawed approach to the long-term management of the river, yes, it’s actually a river—not a pond. The city continues to operate under the assumption that the community can and should do everything that it can to preserve Mirror Pond in its “historic” state, which is to say a man-made reflecting pool that serves as a de facto silt dump for the entire upper basin. Of course, the city isn’t the only disappointing actor in this drama. Perhaps the biggest deadbeat is Pacific Power, which has done nothing to accept responsibility for the dam that ought to be at the center of the debate. The company’s Central Oregon representative recently offered, lamely, that it would continue to operate the dam as long as it provided a “benefit” to its customers. Keep in mind that the dam, which may or may not even be providing power at this point, cranks out, at best, enough juice to power a whopping 500 homes.

Whatever you think of the concept of Mirror Pond, maintaining it in the current state is a costly proposition, somewhere on the order of $2 million to $5 million based on estimates for a large-scale dredging project, similar to what the community did three decades ago when the issue last arose (see a pattern here?). Of course, much has changed in that time, including our understanding of natural resources and the role of things like wetlands and floodplains in a healthy ecosystem. But don’t take our word for it—the experts, including Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, say the same thing. The only long-term solution is to remove the dam and restore the river. But that advice has fallen on deaf ears.

Once again instead of listening to the experts and thinking progressively about one of the city’s most important resources, Mirror Pond advocates are trotting out the same tired excuses. “It’s an icon.” “It’s part of Bend’s history.” The same old lines that we’ve heard before and that have contributed to the ongoing gridlock on the issue.

Of course as long as the city and Mirror Pond advocates continue to resist restoration of the river as an option, they’ll continue to find that grant monies and other sources of funding for progressive environmental projects are elusive. Voters ought to take the same approach when the committee rolls out a “fund our dredging” campaign in the fall. In the meantime, we’re giving parks board members the Slipper for not weighing down an important parks’ bond with a loaded Mirror Pond study.

Source: The Source Weekly

Bogged Down on Mirror Pond

A river wants to be a river, not a pond. You can make a river behave like a pond for a while by putting a dam in front of it, but sooner or later – sooner if the pond is shallow – the area outside of the main channel will fill up with sediment and the river will go back to being a river again.

Therein lies the dilemma for the City of Bend, which for decades has been wrestling with what to do about Mirror Pond.

The pond, formed by a dam built a century ago, is often described as “the jewel of downtown Bend,” but that jewel has a tendency to tarnish. Silt keeps building up until the pond threatens to become a mud flat – a problem exacerbated by spring and summer irrigation flows, which wash soil away from riverbanks upstream.

The city has had to dredge Mirror Pond once before, in 1984. Back then the cost was only $312,000. Now the silt has gotten thick again and the city is thinking about another dredging project. But the cost of doing that, including disposing of the possibly contaminated silt, would now run into the millions.

The city can’t spare that kind of money. It decided it couldn’t even spare $500,000 for a study to figure out the best way to handle the sedimentation problem.

So instead it looks like the city is going to ask the voters – maybe as soon as November 2012 – to create a tax district that will pay for present and future dredging of Mirror Pond.

That’s a bad idea, and here’s why:

Committing to dredge Mirror Pond in perpetuity would put the city on a never-ending – and very expensive – treadmill. The need for dredging probably is going to get more frequent as more development occurs up-river from the pond. (It took 73 years before the pond needed dredging the first time, but only about 25 before it needed dredging again.) And you know it’s not going to get any cheaper.

The new tax district also would increase the overall tax burden on local residents and make them less likely to approve future levies for other, higher-priority needs like police or schools.

Advocates of dredging act as if the only alternative is allowing the pond to turn into a mud flat. But they’re offering a false choice.

In place of Mirror Pond, picture a sparkling river flowing through a broad, green meadow. Imagine people canoeing, kayaking, fishing, bird-watching, picnicking, or just sitting on the banks and watching the water go by. That isn’t so horrible, is it?

If you want a clearer idea of what it might be like, take a look at River Bend Park upstream from the Old Mill District, where the riverbank has been allowed to “go natural.” It’s become one of Bend’s most popular spots for locals and visitors alike.

It’s time for some out-of-the-box – or maybe that should be “out-of-the-mud” – thinking about Mirror Pond. Instead of trudging along on the endless dredging treadmill, the city should give the dredging idea THE BOOT. Permanently.

Source:  The Source Weekly ©2012