Council considers solutions to Mirror Pond silt

Bend’s signature river feature, Mirror Pond, may get a dramatic makeover under a plan being considered by the city council.

There is a range of options for dealing with sedimentation problems in Mirror Pond, and the city council hasn’t endorsed any of them yet.

Alternatives vary, from doing nothing to allowing wetland areas to develop along the edges of Mirror Pond to dredging the entire pond. A compromise might include some dredging coupled with restoration, including the active development of wetlands.

All options have either political or environmental drawbacks.

Even so, a consensus has emerged among the council that it is time to map a strategy for dealing with Mirror Pond.

“The pond means a lot to most members of this community – it’s a real signature of Bend,” said Dave Malkin, who supports restoring the pond by removing sediment.

But dredging has environmental drawbacks. It stirs up sediments that wash farther downstream. Water quality can suffer and fish habitat could potentially be hurt by additional sediment, said Ryan Houston, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council executive director.

It’s also expensive.

There have been no reliable estimates of what it might cost for a full-scale dredging in Mirror Pond, but Houston guessed that it could cost as much as $2 million.

Houston, whose organization specializes in river restoration projects on the Deschutes, has suggested that the Watershed Council, the city and Bend Metro Park and Recreation District spearhead an effort to bring key stakeholders together. The group would look at alternatives for the river and Mirror Pond.

The group would consist of community members, river experts, public agency representatives and anyone else with an interest in the river, said Houston.

The idea would be to meld science with politics and develop a proposal that could be sold to the public at large.

Some councilors are interested in exploring that type of approach, especially if it provides more detailed information about costs and environmental concerns.

“I’m in favor of the process,” said Councilor John Hummel. “You have to have everyone at the table so you can figure out what is best for the community.”

Hummel said he favors some type of compromise between dredging from bank to bank and full restoration of the historic river channel with wetlands development.

But finding a balance on what is sure to prove a lightning rod issue will be a challenge, Hummel acknowledged.

“I think a lot of people think it’s an either-or proposition,” he said. “People think you either have it stay as it is or you’re going to have a roaring river through town, and they pick which one they want and dig in their heels.”

Houston agreed that some type of compromise will be necessary to satisfy the community’s diverse interests and opinions about the river.

“Those are the shades of gray between black and white,” Houston said. “On one end of the spectrum there is dredging, on the other do nothing. Somewhere in between there is a balanced approach.”

The issue of managing Mirror Pond has been slowing gathering steam as sediment begins to choke out the pond.

It’s not uncommon in the summer to see children wading into the middle of the pond in water no deeper than their ankles.

The sediment problem starts at Wickiup Reservoir where river flows are managed year round for irrigation. Low winter flows and unnaturally high summer flows promote erosion that contributes heavily to the sedimentation issues in Mirror Pond, Houston said.

In Bend, where sediment gathers behind a series of dams, the river is adjusting to the sediments. For example, in Mirror Pond the river is carving a new channel flanked by a series of mud flats that will ultimately evolve into wetlands.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the river, said Houston.

The deeper channel provides better fish habitat. Wetlands can benefit other wildlife while serving as a filter for storm water runoff – another issue which the city is currently trying to address.

But the idea of urban wetlands supplanting the sanitized version of Mirror Pond, gets mixed reviews.

“I’m really conflicted about that,” said Counilor Linda Johnson

“There is a part of me that understands nature is always going to have it’s way,” she added. “We can muck around with dredging, but no matter what we do nature is going to find a way around it.”

Johnson said she supports a public process that will put all the information on the table for a communitywide decision.

“This is one of those issues I think the council would be very cautious about putting its own agenda out,” she said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2004