Future clouded for Mirror Pond dam

Historic powerhouse on Deschutes River in Bend may be shut down after 81 years of use
Historic powerhouse on Deschutes River in Bend may be shut down after 81 years of use

The dam and powerhouse that formed Bend’s Mirror Pond and sent the first electricity surging through the community 81 years ago now faces an uncertain future.

PacifiCorp, owner of the historic facility that sits on the east bank of the Deschutes River near downtown Bend, is seeking a renewal of its federal license for the project.

But some local government officials are urging PacifiCorp to permanently shut down the powerhouse, which provides only a tiny fraction of the electricity used in Central Oregon.

Others see the relicensing application as an opportunity to address for the first time environmental problems—such as heavy sediment buildup in Mirror Pond—that is partially caused by the power plant.

Meanwhile, PacifiCorp even has suggested the possibility of removing the powerhouse and the dam—a move, which is unlikely, that would have a dramatic effect on the appearance of downtown Bend.

It will be months before a final decision is made. But these issues will be discussed Wednesday when PacifiCorp officials come to Bend for an all-day meeting with city, county, park district and other government representatives.

City and county officials plan to press PacifiCorp to make major improvements to the dam, and ask the company to commit to sharing the future costs of removing silt that backs up into Mirror Pond. In 1984, the community spent several hundred thousand dollars to dredge the pond; already, the work is needed again.

Too, those agencies want the utility to reduce the size of its substation, take steps to protect fish from the power turbines and provide public access through the site for a continuation of the Deschutes River Trail.

“We see this as a great opportunity,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Tom Throop. “This power project has had far-reaching effects on Bend, and we’ve never been in a position before to influence its operation.”

The Bend Metro Park and Recreation District, meanwhile, has joined the National Park Service in requesting that PacifiCorp retire the powerhouse. The Park Service is required by law to review federal dam relicensing applications.

Ernio Drapela, park district director, said he favors shutting down the powerhouse but preserving the historic brick building and the dam.

Shutting down the powerhouse, which illuminated a total of 375 light bulbs when the turbines began spinning in 1910, would have little effect on Bend today.

The powerhouse now produces less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the electricity deliverer by Pacific Power to customers in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.

Source: The Bulletin ©1991

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