Preserve the Pond?

After dancing around the issue for nearly two hours—and for years before Monday evening’s meeting inside the Bend Park & Recreation District office building—the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee casually called a vote: Should we keep Mirror Pond or not?

Suddenly, at least a few of the roughly 50 community members in attendance sat up straighter.

And in a snap, a unanimous decision was made. All eight of the ad hoc committee members present chose to preserve the pond. (Committee member Matt Shinderman was notably absent on Monday.) While ultimately not a final resolution, the vote seems to move the committee toward focusing all its attention on making the pond stick around.

The surprising move elicited at least one “boo!” from the back of the room, and even seemed to top last week’s dramatic revelations in the latest chapter of Bend’s most watched soap opera.

For those who took a brief Thanksgiving vacation, previously on “As The Dam Leaks”: last Monday, Pacific Power announced it was ready to offload the leaking, 103-year-old Newport Avenue dam—the very structure that creates Mirror Pond. That same day, two local businessmen stepped forward to explain that they have been brokering a deal to buy the land underneath the pond—and essentially, the pond itself—with the plans to preserve the city’s icon and famous pale ale namesake.

In this week’s episode, Monday’s ad hoc committee vote—coupled with the pending purchase of the mud beneath the pond—seems to have fully tipped the hand of the city’s power brokers: Keep the pond, even though public sentiment remains split.

That split wasn’t fully addressed at Monday night’s meeting. Early this year, an unscientific park district survey revealed that roughly 47 percent of residents want a free-flowing river, while nearly 43 percent prefer to keep the dam and with it, the pond.

But instead of serving as a closing chapter and settling the pond-or-river debate, the ad hoc committee’s decision on Monday simply raises more questions, such as who will pay for the dam which, after all, is necessary if a pond is to remain?

Acquiring the dam from Pacific Power and repairing and updating the more than a century-old structure will cost millions, the crowd was told on Monday. And there are other prickly issues, too, said a park district attorney: Transferring the water rights attached to the dam will be a complex process, and one without precedent. Yet, in spite of all the mounting legal and financial arguments, there was scant mention of returning the pond to a free flowing river and forcing Pacific Power to pay for the associated costs of dam removal and stream restoration.

“We do know that the damage to the dam is fairly significant,” said Park District Executive Director Don Horton. “My guess is that fish passage will be a requirement,” he added, referring to updates likely required, should Pacific Power sell or transfer ownership of the dam. “And we’ll need to find a way to transfer that [water] right to another use.”

Park district attorney Neil Bryant said that asking for a legislative exception to the state rule, mandated by the Oregon Water Resources Department, is likely the best option, but one that would need to wait until January 2015, the next full session in Salem. Other avenues, such as seeking a transfer of the water right, would likely draw protests from community members and conservation groups, Bryant noted.

Next to speak during Monday’s public meeting was Todd Taylor, CEO of heavy construction company Taylor Northwest and one of the two men to form Mirror Pond Solutions (the other is Bill Smith, developer of the Old Mill District). Taylor explained that he and Smith are prepared to purchase the 23.5 acres beneath Mirror Pond—from the Galveston Avenue bridge to the Newport Avenue bridge—for somewhere between $225,000 and $327,000. The amount would cover title research, mapping and testing of the sediment.

“This is not a profit center,” Taylor said. “We took it on because of our passion for this pond.”

City councilor and ad hoc committee member Mark Capell said he was similarly passionate about maintaining the pond, but worried that negotiating with Pacific Power over the dam would continue to be a sticking point.

“They want money,” he explained. “We want them to rebuild and give it to us. We’re a long way apart,” he added.

As a Hail Mary, Capell mentioned that perhaps a “small mom and pop” utility company would take over ownership of the dated dam and its power-generating facility, a move that could preserve the pond and address the water rights problem. Capell and Horton are scheduled to meet with Pacific Power again later in the week.

Following those comments, Horton made the call that eventually initiated a committee vote.

“We’re going to find a way to preserve the pond,” Horton declared. With somewhat Solomon wisdom, Horton went on to explain that both sides could be happy if, in addition to keeping the pond, fish and recreation passages were added to the dam as well as natural features along the banks, to better appease those who want a free-flowing river. Removing the dam, he said, would please only those who want a river, and likely alienate those who want to preserve the pond.

“There’s still a public process to go through,” Horton added, referring to the notion that, ultimately, there will be a public vote whether to preserve the pond. “I understand both sides.”

After the meeting, city councilor and ad hoc committee member Victor Chudowsky agreed, putting to rest, briefly, any fears of the committee steam-rolling ahead with its own agenda.

“There will be a vote,” Chudowsky promised.

Source: The Source Weekly 2013

Dam Near Done

The Newport Avenue dam is at the end of its life cycle. Everyone knows it—even PacifiCorp, the utility company that owns the 102-year-old dam, which creates the pond at Drake Park near downtown Bend.

What many don’t know, however, is that the dam cannot remain if it ceases to function as a hydroelectric facility. Those are the rules: According to water-right certificate No. 29581, Pacific Power & Light Co. (now PacifiCorp, which owns Pacific Power) has the right only to use the water for power generation and ice and debris removal. There’s no built-in right for storing water.

So, the idea that PacifiCorp can simply retire the crumbling dam from service as a power-generating tool, but leave the structure in place to retain a pond, is a thought that should no longer be considered.

“By no means could it stay there just to keep Mirror Pond,” said Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin, who also put to rest talk of transferring those water rights for recreational purposes. All of the water rights on the Upper Deschutes River, said Giffin, have already been allocated.

PacifiCorp officials hope, however, the case isn’t as cut and dried as it seems. Company spokesman Bob Gravely said, although, “it’s not really an issue we’ve looked at closely,” he’s optimistic a solution could be found that would allow the dam to remain in place.

But the water-right news puts PacifiCorp in a tight spot. Company representatives have admitted that, from a hydroelectric standpoint, the dam provides negligible electricity. According to company stats, the dam only generates enough power for 300 to 400 homes. Angela Price, PafiCorp rep and Mirror Pond Steering Committee member, recently called the structure “a small asset.”

Moreover, altering the Newport Avenue dam is also an unlikely course. Adding fish ladders and other such necessary updates or repairs would be expensive and would trigger action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC licensing would be a costly route that could take years to navigate—an unappealing scenario for PacifiCorp.

Jim Figurski, the project manager who’s been hired by the city and Bend Park & Recreation District to find a fix for a pond that is clogging with silt, has already thought about all this.

“My understanding is that the water right is solely associated with the generation of power,” said Figurski, echoing Watermaster Jeremy Giffin’s words. Figurski added that, while he can’t speak for the city, he thought a handoff or sale of the dam from PacifiCorp to the city highly unlikely.

To account for this, Figurski, who also sits on the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, the decision-making body overseeing the project, said at least three of the four possible solutions being drafted by his consultant team will include a Deschutes River with no dam in place at Newport Avenue. Figurski expects to have four designs, ones created by Portland’s Greenworks, a landscape architecture and environmental design firm, ready for public viewing and input by early June.

Fellow Steering Committee member Ryan Houston, Upper Deschutes Water Council executive director, is enthusiastic about Figurski’s approach but wants to make one thing clear: “Whether you want a pond or not is irrelevant—that dam is old,” Houston said. “The writing is on the wall.”

Going forward, Houston said he hopes the community can understand that the issues swirling about the silt-filled pond aren’t either/or.

“It’s either going to benefit recreationalists or homeowners; water quality versus not—when I hear someone playing these things off of each other as if they’re-black and-white solutions, I say ‘no,’ ” Houston said. “They’re false choices.”

Some would like to see the pond stay, no matter the cost, as they see it as an iconic Bend fixture. Other residents, who value the river’s health, would rather see the Deschutes return to a more natural state. River enthusiasts hope the solution allows for more recreating on the river. Others still ask that the area around Drake Park remain aesthetically pleasing.

The solution, Houston said, should be clever enough so that it pleases environmentalists, neighbors and recreationalists alike.

Figurski agrees, and said he’s trying to help his design team think outside of the box.

“The potential to retain pond-like characteristics,” Figurski said, is there, even without a dam.

But, at this point, one eventuality is clear—the dam’s days are numbered. SW

Source: The Source Weekly ©2013

Pacific Power Says Dam is “Not Very” Important to Company

Yesterday's MPMB powwow. Photo by James Williams
Yesterday’s MPMB powwow. Photo by James Williams

During Wednesday’s Mirror Pond Management Board meeting Pacific Power rep. Angela Jacobson Price was asked “how important is the dam to your company?”
“Not very,” she said. Price went on to call the Newport Avenue dam, the 100-year-old structure which impounds the Deschutes River at Drake Park, “a small asset” and said it provides power for less than 1,000 homes. Although she declined to elaborate further on what that might mean for the community and the future of the dam, Price did say that altering the dam was in Pacific Power’s “10 year plan.”

It still seems as if the utility company is very much open to relinquishing control of the dam. Price asked “What does the community want us to do?” Ryan Houston, MPMB member and executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council asked Price if the community says, “keep the dam,” would you sell it to the Parks District? Again, Price declined to comment.

Other items of note from Wednesday’s meeting of the MPMB, the non-decision making arm of the Deschutes River siltation project (the Mirror Pond Steering Committee is the oversight group than makes the calls—the management board is a citizen advisory committee):

– “The dam’s not going to be there forever,” explained project manager Jim Figurski. This prompted Houston to ask, how, then can the steering committee draft a comprehensive plan without first deciding what to do about the dam? “It’s a physics problem—the river acts differently with and without a dam in place,” he said. You can’t have a design/management plan that works for both scenarios. “There are ways to do this,” Figurski said.

– Ownership of the land beneath the water remains an issue, though Bill Smith said its primary owner, the McKay family, “wants to be good community citizens,” and cooperate. But, the McKay’s and other potential owners are fearful of liability should environmental tests reveal something toxic in the soil or water. Houston said risk of such danger is low.

– Figurski revealed sample questions to be used during the next phase of community outreach—the visioning phase. Management board members urged the project manager to “make it simpler.”

– Todd Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, proposed that visioning graphics and alternatives include cost/benefit information “early in the process” to ensure that the community knows what its getting into.

– There are four alternatives for the river going forward, but they are only loosely defined as of yet. The only two that really exist are the bookends—”a do nothing” strategy and “remove the dam.” The middle two strategies will be, in part, formed by public input. The visioning process (what the committee is working on now—March through June) should reveal potential solutions with the idea being that the preferred alternative would be chosen by July or August.

The community will be involved in both of the final two phases, Figurski said. The project’s website is mirrorpondbend.com.

Source: The Source Weekly ©2013

Survey Results are Clear: People Care about the River

Late last week the Mirror Pond Steering Committee released the results from 18-question survey that was first issued in January.

And yesterday, Don Horton, executive director of Bend Park & Recreation District summed up the results during a Mirror Pond Steering Committee meeting. Horton said it was “clear,” Bend residents care about water quality, river habitat and picturesque views.

Here are the most telling (and most interesting) results from a survey that proved to be confusing and biased to many of the 1,858 respondents.

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Most attractive: The grey bar represents what respondents thought most attractive. Unsurprisingly, people chose the lovely river image.

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Most important: The green bar represents the majority of respondents, 64%, who said a healthy river system was most important to them.

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Possible approaches: This one was a toss up. The green bars represent “Dredge regularly” (27%) and “dredge a little, then modify the river” (29%), which were neck and neck. Though in public meetings, those who want to “just dredge and be done with it,” seem to be in the minority.

The Mirror Pond Management Board has hired Greenworks, a Portland-based design firm, to begin the visioning process (the part where we see visuals of what the river COULD look like). Documents issued at yesterday’s meeting shows “Vision Alternatives Review” (the visuals) will be ready June 11-ish.

Source: Bent/The Source Weekly Blog ©2013

The Somewhat Surprising Results from the Unofficial Mirror Pond Survey

Further proof that the tide may well be turning:
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Mirrorpond.Info

That long, split-pea green bar on top represents the 62.26% of respondents who think“The dam should be removed and the river returned to its natural channel.”About 300 participated in the the unofficial survey, issued by the Old Bend Neighborhood Association via the website mirrorpond.info.

The last two questions of the eight-question survey were also surprising/pleasing to see:

Q7 If the dam is removed, what would you like to see happen to the land no longer submerged under Mirror Pond?

12.31% — It remain in the hands of its current owners. (McKay family?, etc.)
15.77% — It becomes the property of the adjacent land owners, maintaining their river frontage.
71.92% — It becomes public property and remains in public use.

Q8 Which would you prefer?

44.32% — Mirror Pond to retain its current charm and iconic stature.
55.68% — Boat or float the Deschutes River from above the Bill Healy Bridge to below the First Street Rapids.

The unofficial survey was drafted in response to the official 19-question survey issued by the Mirror Pond Steering Committee earlier this year. While a number of the Old Bend and River West Neighborhood residents who live near or along the Deschutes River participated in the survey, the majority of respondents—nearly 54%—live outside the two neighborhoods above. You can find complete results here.

The official survey proved unpopular with scores of Bend residents, many of whom have voiced their concerns during various public meetings over the past couple of months. Polling closed today for the official survey and results should be available on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Source: The Source Weekly

‘Integrated Solution’ Called for at City Club

Today’s City Club of Central Oregon forum was a who’s who of Bend’s movers and shakers. Not surprising given the topic: Mirror Pond.

It was perhaps the first time in recent years where river experts, hydrologists and stakeholders, as well as notables like Gary Fish, founder and CEO of Deschutes Brewery, gathered in one room to discuss options for the silt-filled pond near downtown Bend. One thing seemed clear—dredging and walking away, as was last done in 1984, is an option that has fallen out of favor.

“The way we think about rivers is in a period of change,” noted Mayor Jim Clinton, who was also on today’s six-man (no women!?) panel. He explained that the 20th century marked an era of dam building. Now, in the 21st century, we’re seeing more dams taken out, he said. Clinton advocated for what seemed to be a popular solution—a creative, multifaceted fix that might restore the river to a more natural state. Clinton called the issue a “great opportunity.”

Mike Hollern, chair and CEO of Brooks Resources Corporation, made no effort to hide his bias—he wants to keep Mirror Pond. But, Hollern, who lives along the water, said he’d be willing to help pay for a fix—and so should others who live nearby, as they benefit the most from the pond. Hollern also said while the best solution should include some dredging, maybe we could expand the grounds of the parks which would add increased green space. Such a fix would make for a narrow, deeper, faster and colder waterway—all of which would make for a healthier river.

Ryan Houston, the Executive Director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council did not reveal a solution but did answer a number of questions concerning what was and wasn’t possible. Houston called a “good solution” one that was sustainable (both environmentally and economically), fit the community’s desires, and appealed to the various user groups—fisherman, paddlers, dam owners, floaters, homeowners, etc. Like Clinton, Houston said an “integrated solution,” is the best way forward.

The sold-out event drew out four of our seven City Councilors—Victor Chudoswky, Doug Knight, Sally Russell, Mayor Clinton (Mark Capell, Jodie Barram and Scott Ramsay were absent); City Manager Eric King, E.D. of Parks Don Horton as well as county commissioners, environmentalist groups, notable attorneys and at least one former Mirror Pond project manager.

Unlike the Park District meetings, which were free, this event did have a significant barrier to entry: tickets for the City Club discussion were $35 ($20 for City Club members). Bourgeois!

Source: The Source Weekly ©2013

Dammed Thinking

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While sitting inside a Bend Park & Recreation District meeting room last Wednesday, I was immediately thankful that I didn’t have Jim Figurski’s job.

Figurski is the Mirror Pond project manager, hired by the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, the project’s ultimate decision-making arm. It’s his responsibility to reach out to the community and both explain the problem and offer solutions for a pond that’s filling with silt.

For an hour and a half, Figurski patiently answered the questions of the 28 residents in attendance that night. He explained that although the visioning process is in its early stages, a final plan should be in place by summer. He said while the city has enough money for visioning, there are no funds readily available for construction. And he told attendees that the 19-question survey was meant to gauge values, not illustrate fixes.

While some hope to retain the pond’s iconic status, Figurski’s survey explanation didn’t sit well with at least a few community members.

“I have a problem with the questionnaire,” Dennis Peters said during the Feb. 6 meeting. “I think the questionnaire reflects what you want to see. What about the Deschutes River?” After the meeting Peters elaborated. “They want answers for Mirror Pond, not for the Deschutes River,” he said. “It frustrated me.”

In January, Figurski and the steering committee created a questionnaire, which they hope will elucidate the community’s values and priorities associated with the Deschutes River as it flows through downtown Bend. Polling closes on Feb. 25 and on Feb. 28, Figurski will reveal the results of the survey before launching into a more specific visioning phase. Unfortunately, though, the survey, which has been completed by just over 1,000 Bend residents, left confusion and exasperation in its wake.

In response, various Bend groups are taking the visioning process into their own hands, including one neighborhood association and the City Club of Central Oregon.

The Old Bend Neighborhood Association, frustrated by the official survey issued by the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, drafted an unofficial eight-question survey. And in hopes of creating a more nuanced vision for the Deschutes River, the City Club of Central Oregon monthly forum is focusing on specific solutions for dealing with the downtown section of the waterway.

“We thought it mixed too many issues and was too convoluted,” Spencer Dahl said of the official survey. Dahl, a representative from the Old Bend Neighborhood and member of the Mirror Pond Management Board, an independent citizen advisory committee which reviews and offers recommendations but has no real decision-making authority, said the unofficial survey drafted by his neighborhood association was a “direct response” to the official questionnaire issued by the steering committee.

In the unofficial survey, Dahl said that over 60 percent of the nearly 300 respondents were in favor of removing the Newport Avenue dam and returning the river to its natural channel—a solution that was very briefly mentioned in the official survey.

Former Mirror Pond project manager Michael McLandress voiced a similar critique.

“It seems like the survey is kind of biased toward the management of Mirror Pond rather than the health of the river and the experience that that would create for our community,” McLandress said.

The survey was one of three central themes that resurfaced time and again during the Feb. 6 public meeting. The other two also kept Figurski on his toes: “Who’s paying?” and “What will the proposed solution look like?”

“Why don’t we ding Pacific Power to take care of this problem?” asked one audience member. PacifiCorp operates Pacific Power and owns the dam that creates the impoundment. Many in the community have said that decision makers should be looking to the utility company for answers.

Figurski explained, “It’s not their responsibility.”

McLandress, who worked as project manager from 2010 to 2011 before he was let go due to a lack of funds, disagreed. McLandress said he thinks Pacific Power should be asked to ante up. He said members of the management board agree.

As for proposed solutions, Figurski said that phase will come later—late winter, perhaps. It’s in the second phase that Figurski said the public can expect to see graphic representations of proposed fixes for the river.

The City Club forum, however, aims to accelerate the visual aspect of this project.

At the Feb. 21 forum, three river experts, Ryan Houston, executive director of Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Gabe Williams, hydrologist, and Joseph Eilers a local hydrologist who’s conducted hydroacoustic mapping of the pond, will illustrate specific scenarios showing exactly what can and can’t happen along the banks of the Deschutes.

“If this town ever asked a professional hydrologist: Give us some concepts that will increase sustainability, maintain some kind of pond and have a floatable, recreational feature by removing the dam, you’d get incredible designs,” said David Blair, a City Club board member. “Those questions never get asked.”

Strangely, neither Figurski nor any other steering committee member will be on hand for the Feb. 21 City Club forum, they said. Figurski said they don’t want to confuse the public as visioning is “not the process we’ve engaged in yet.”

But Blair and others on the City Club board hope to get the creative ball rolling.

“I hope people walk away feeling that there are a lot more interesting options than they thought there were going in,” Blair said.

McLandress is similarly excited about possible solutions. What if we converted the substation area near the Newport dam into a new downtown district—the Powerhouse District—he asked? Remodel the old brick powerhouse building for retail or public use; create more public greenspace and maybe design a park where residents could watch both wildlife and recreationalists interact with the river.

“The potential there is just awesome,” McLandress said. SW

Source: The Source Weekly ©2013

Blowing the Dam

Science was not driving the conversation at a recent Mirror Pond Steering Committee meeting. Politics and frustrations, however, were.

On this December day, members of the steering committee trickled into the Bend City Hall boardroom one by one. Soon, five people sat scattered around several large tables. As they exchanged small talk before Mel Oberst, Bend’s community development director, set the meeting into motion, Bill Smith cracked a joke.

“Let’s take this opportunity and go dredge right now,” said Smith, the man who owns William Smith Properties Inc., most of the Old Mill and the dam upriver from Mirror Pond. He was kidding, kind of.

Smith, along with the rest of the steering committee and most of Bend, has grown weary of the inaction that’s come to define the Mirror Pond siltation problem. But after six years, not only has there been no action taken, scientists say the city’s conversation surrounding the pond’s rapid sedimentation problem is still off target.

According to members of the two-year old steering committee, dredging the pond remains the best solution, and one they’re willing to spend another $200,000 to cement public opinion. But scientists and conservationists say it’s the wrong message.

Rather than maintaining a man-made pond in the middle of town, experts say more nuanced options should still be part of the discussion. Ones that prioritize the river’s health and include a passage for fish, a narrowing of the river’s channel, vegetation restoration and some dredging, returning the river to a more natural state as it appears in the Old Mill. It’s also time to put one big option on the table—blowing the dam.

Dams come down in the Northwest

In October 2011, after 100 years of blockage, the glacier-fed waters of Washington’s White Salmon River were set free. The Yakama Nation, long reliant on the river’s bounty, rejoiced, as did kayakers, rafters, fisherman and nature enthusiasts. Perhaps those who most benefited from the dam removal were the salmon.

“The habitat [on the White Salmon River] is actively improving,” said Rod Engle, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Rivers are like huge sediment conveyor belts.”

Engle explained that the dam prevented good rock from being deposited downstream. Now, without the dam, Chinook salmon are once again finding appropriate spawning conditions upstream, among the rocks.

Over the last couple of years the Pacific Northwest has seen a paradigm shift on dams and their usefulness. In 2010 a PacifiCorp-owned dam on the Hood River was removed and in 2011 PacifiCorp, the same company that owns Bend’s Newport Avenue dam, opted to remove the Condit dam on the White Salmon. This spring a dam on the Elwah River in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula was dismantled; other dams on that river are also on the chopping block.

“That created a large amount of new habit for anadromous salmon,” said Andrew Wilcox, a University of Montana professor who specializes in dam removals. “They [the Elwah dams] were relatively small hydro producers—small relative to the amount of environmental benefit.”

It’s a situation not unlike the one at the Newport dam.

The Newport dam creates less than a megawatt of power, which means it produces enough energy to power somewhere between 500 and 800 homes. An amount so small that it’s a negligible factor in the equation. The dam’s utility is mostly limited to preserving Mirror Pond, which many Bend residents consider the city’s principal icon. Meanwhile, the structure remains an obstacle for migrating fish and is a detriment to the river’s ecosystem.

At present, local stretches of the Deschutes River are in violation of state standards for redband trout. And there are invasive species, like milfoil, growing in the shallowest areas of Mirror Pond. Plus, the Newport dam will soon be the only dam in Bend that doesn’t allow for fish passage.

“All the other dams in Bend will soon have a fish passage, and this one [Newport dam] would be the only that wouldn’t,” said Ryan Houston, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council’s executive director. The Watershed Council is working on a design modification that would allow for fish passage at the big dam near the Riverhouse.

What’s more, PacifiCorp, the utilities company that owns the Newport dam, said it’s not dead set on keeping the dilapidated structure in place.

“People need to understand the project is 100 years old and it’s a lot closer to the end of its usefulness,” said Bob Gravely, a PacifiCorp spokesman. “We want people to know we’re not going to continue to operate this dam forever.”

This about-face from PacifiCorp should be central to the Mirror Pond siltation solution. But so far, it hasn’t been.

Plotting and spending

One of the five people at the table that Monday morning was Jim Figurski, a scholarly-looking fellow with round glasses, white hair and a matching beard. He’s the new Mirror Pond project manager and is charged with attacking the committee’s public outreach campaign, which so far has centered on dredging.

Figurski, who’s operating on a $200,000 budget, with equal amounts raised by the city and the Bend Park & Recreation District, said the steering committee is looking at “a range of possibilities” but needs to establish some parameters that are real and possible.

In his public outreach campaign, Figurski will spend approximately $100,000 to hire science and design consultants to create graphic representations of what a Mirror Pond solution could look like. So far, though, Figurski said the river’s health “hasn’t been a ranking as of yet.”

This is a troubling statement given the river’s current state.

However you slice it, dredging the pond is an expensive band-aid solution. Steering committee members figure dredging, which was last completed in 1984 and, if done again, would likely need to be repeated in another few years, would cost between $2 million and $5 million.

“Sediment dredging is really a kind of maintenance and economic issue,” said professor Wilcox. “If it’s filling up frequently, then it can become very expensive.”

Matt Shinderman, a steering committee member who’s also a professor of natural resources at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus and a member of Bend 2030, said that no matter what the final solution, dredging would likely be included as a single component. But, he said, dredging alone should be considered a thing of the past.

“I don’t think anyone on the steering committee wants to just dredge it and walk away,” Shinderman said. “Dredging it repeatedly, at increased cost, doesn’t make any sense.”

Yet neither does increased spending, unless it comes with the assurance of a multi-faceted solution like the one promoted by former project manager Michael McLandress.

In 2010, McLandress was hired to take the lead on the Mirror Pond sedimentation project. But in 2011, after less than a year on the job, he was let go due to the steering committee’s lack of funds, despite the fact he had brought a scientifically minded consulting firm to the table to complete an alternative analysis study.

“What I’d like to see is a micro-hydro system, maybe supplement with solar,” McLandress mused over a cup of coffee during a recent interview. He said the best solution might include cutting-edge green energy as well as a fish passage and even a channel for recreational users.

Throughout his short tenure as project manager, McLandress floated progressive solutions but said they fell on deaf ears.

“What we really need to do is look at the whole section from the Bill Healy [Memorial] Bridge down to the Newport dam,” McLandress said. “I just think it should be a shared experience.”

Forward-thinking solutions

It could be time, as McLandress suggested, for a total review of how the Deschutes River is managed, from Wickiup Reservoir on down. Flows, regulated federally by the Bureau of Land Management, are determined in part by irrigation needs.

“Change comes from Wickiup Reservoir,” McLandress said. “There’s a high level of silt-laden water coming down from how Wickiup is managed by the BLM.”

A shift in management would alter Central Oregon’s high desert landscape, but McLandress allows that such a sweeping change would likely be unpopular with many, especially ranchers.

Fish passage, however, has become increasingly important in the eyes of scientists and conservationists who see thriving fish populations as signs of a healthy river ecosystem.

“If there is a solution that involves fish passage that would be great,” Houston said. “To me that’s the opportunity in this Mirror Pond project—if we can think big.”

Houston added that the best solution would likely include some dredging, some wetland and riparian creation, and in that process, a narrowing of the pond which would return the river closer to its natural state. Narrowing the channel would speed up the velocity of the river, which, according to Houston, would improve water quality and help deter future sedimentation.

Shinderman agreed.

“One of the limiting factors for fish population is available spawning habitat. Having fish passage at Newport would open up fish habitat,” Shinderman said.

Whether the solution comes as a broad stroke of work or a small alteration in how the river is cared for, change, as advocated by river experts, should be driven by ecological considerations.

“There’s probably significant room for improvement,” said Shinderman.

Shinderman, who was not one of the five present at the Dec. 3 steering committee meeting, assured us that the committee, which hopes to have a request for proposals out to the public by Christmas, is moving in the right direction.

“I’d like to see some modification and sediment management—an approach other than having to dredge after another 15 years and [one that] allows for some fish passage,” Shinderman said.

“I trust that what we’re doing will be a better solution than what we’ve done in the past,” he said.

 Source: The Source Weekly ©2012