Slow-moving Mirror Pond efforts still lack funding

Plans to partially dredge Mirror Pond and restore its banks are moving too slowly for some Bend city councilors, and funding to even continue planning such a project is still up in the air.

The council heard a summary at a meeting last week of the Mirror Pond committee’s work over the last year, including a recommendation that the pond would be best served through both dredging and restoration efforts.

The committee found that a strategy combining partial dredging of Mirror Pond with restoration of some of the banks would be the most sound option. Such a course would slow the buildup of sediment and improve how the river flows through the area while preserving the appearance of the pond.

But the process is still moving too slowly for some people.

“What I’m hearing is pretty much what I heard the first time,” Councilor Chris Telfer said March 5 in reference to a Mirror Pond update the council received in August. “I’m a little disappointed in that we’re still dealing with the same issues.”

Telfer and Councilor Bill Friedman agreed that the committee had appeared to make little progress in resolving how to involve landowners along Mirror Pond and what should be done about the deteriorating dam. While the nearly 100-year-old Pacific Power & Light Dam is still owned by another company, any changes made to the dam in the future would also affect Mirror Pond.

“We can argue about which way to go down this path, but it’s a non-starter to just go down there with trucks and start scooping it out,” Councilor Jim Clinton said in response.

Clinton has headed up a committee that spent about six months last year reviewing the state of the pond and coming up with recommendations.

The emphasis for the committee was establishing a strong scientific understanding of why Mirror Pond is silting up so that an eventual project would be more sensible than just dredging it again, Clinton said.

The last time Mirror Pond was dredged, in 1984, the city removed 84,000 cubic yards of silt, as much as 7 feet in some parts of the pond. That project cost about $1.5 million at the time, of which the city chipped in about $312,000.

Much of the silt comes from the fact that the federal government heavily regulates the release of water from Wickiup Reservoir, about 40 miles upstream. The Deschutes River would maintain a relatively constant flow all year if it were not dammed, hydrologists contend. But the releases from the dam vary between a relatively low 30 cubic feet per second in the winter and 1,700 cubic feet per second during peak irrigation times. That extra flow means that river banks below the reservoir are eroding faster than they naturally would, adding a greater amount of sediment to the river, the committee said in its report.

But now Mirror Pond is reaching a state of equilibrium, as sediment has built up in many places and the river itself has carved a deeper, narrow channel for itself through the pond up to the old Pacific Power & Light dam.

Because of that, the committee estimated that it would be another five to 10 years before the pond accumulated so much silt that it turned into a mud flat or wetlands.

The next step is for the city to hire consultants to conduct public meetings and gather information on what Bend residents would like to see done with Mirror Pond. But that, too, has no clear timetable. City staff may come back to City Council in the coming months to request money to start that process.

Last month, the city filed a formal request with Oregon’s congressional delegation for $490,000 in federal money to help with the project. That is substantially less than the $2 million the city requested last year, but did not receive. This year’s appropriation, if approved, would fund only the first phase of the project, which would include generating detailed plans for restoring Mirror Pond. Future funding would be needed to actually work on the pond.

“It’s something that we’re definitely moving forward on, but it’s not the only thing I’m working on by any means,” said Wendy Edde, a city water specialist. “There’s urgency, but we’re not panicking.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2007