A leak in the dam that forms Bend’s Mirror Pond could lead to unsafe water levels for people hoping to float the Deschutes River by inner tube this summer.
The leak is about the size of a basketball. It’s kept the dam offline since October. The dam’s owner, Pacific Corp, now says it no longer makes financial sense to operate the dam. So last month, the city and the district began exploring the possibility of taking it over as a way to preserve Bend’s iconic Mirror Pond.
But Park District Executive Director Don Horton says if a deal does happen, it’s unlikely to come before the summer, when up to a thousand people a day float the Deschutes. He wants Pacific Corp to make those repairs a priority.
“We have time,” Horton says. “We won’t see floaters until June. However, we need to get the hole fixed as soon as we can.”
Pacific Corp spokesman, Bob Gravely says the dam is safe, adding that any deal that would need to take into account the interests of ratepayers.
Bend Paddle Trail Alliance pitches alternative plan
By Hillary Borrud | The Bulletin
The Bend Park & Recreation District plans to commission an independent engineering survey of Mirror Pond dam, executive director Don Horton said during a meeting of the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee on Friday.
“Basically, what we’re looking at is an engineer’s analysis of the condition of the dam,” Horton said. This analysis would also include lists of necessary repairs to maintain the dam for the next 15 years and the next 50 years.
The Mirror Pond ad hoc committee also heard from members of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, who pitched an alternative to keeping the existing dam. Members of the group said their vision would preserve Mirror Pond while improving the section of the Deschutes River for fish and for boaters.
“I would really implore you to consider other alternatives to just saving or fixing the dam,” said Will Blount of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance.
David Blair, also a member of the alliance, said the group is “seeking a somewhat more sustainable, somewhat more river-like approach, a somewhat more environmentally oriented approach — but it would retain the pond.”
Tom Carlsen, who lives in a waterfront home on Mirror Pond, said he represents a group called the Save Mirror Pond Committee. Carlsen said his neighbors have already noticed “odor problems” due to the low water level in the pond, and said local governments should repair the existing dam in order to fix the problem as soon as possible.
“It’s innovative, but we’re concerned with the time and cost to implement such a concept,” Carlsen said of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance plan.
Horton said he hopes to hire an engineering consultant within a month to conduct the survey, and he estimated it will cost approximately $25,000.
Horton and City Councilor Mark Capell are negotiating the possible acquisition of the dam from PacifiCorp, a Northwest utility that operates as Pacific Power in Oregon, which owns the dam.
PacifiCorp discovered a leak in the dam in fall 2013, and after the utility’s chief dam safety engineer inspected the structure, the company announced it no longer made sense to continue operating the hydropower project.
PacifiCorp now plans to decommission the dam or transfer ownership to another entity.
Angela Jacobson Price, regional community manager for Pacific Power, said the company is talking with the park district about granting access to the dam for an independent engineer to conduct the inspection on behalf of the park district.
Price also confirmed that PacifiCorp plans to file an application with the Oregon Water Resources Department to amend its water rights. That would make it possible for a future dam owner to keep the structure without necessarily generating power.
Currently, PacifiCorp has water rights that allow the utility to hold water behind the dam in order to generate power.
Bend Community Development Director Mel Oberst, a member of the ad hoc committee, said the park district should ask the engineer who will survey the dam to include an estimate of the cost to build fish passage on the dam, something Oberst believes the state will require if PacifiCorp transfers ownership and water rights to another entity. But Horton said he believed the state might not require fish passage, so the district does not need to determine right now how much it might cost.