Officials from local government and the private sector recently teamed up to hire someone who they hope can find a solution to the long-standing sedimentation problem in Bend’s Mirror Pond.
The pond, which was created in 1910 after the construction of the Pacific Power and Light dam on the Deschutes River near Newport Avenue, is considered by many to be a crown jewel of downtown Bend.
But over the years, increased deposits of silt from upstream have essentially clogged the pond, creating shallow mud flats that have altered its aesthetic character while also contributing to water quality problems on the river.
To find a fix, the city of Bend, the Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power and the company behind the Old Mill District, William Smith Properties, pooled some money to pay for a project manager who will now study the problem and find out how much it would cost to hire someone to then analyze the various options to get rid of the sediment.
“We need someone to sort of carry the ball,” City Manager Eric King said. “None of us (has) the resources on our respective staffs to dedicate to this project.”
In November, the group, working through the nonprofit, Bend 2030, decided unanimously to hire Michael McLandress of Brightwater Collaborative LLC to spearhead the Mirror Pond sedimentation project over the next year.
McLandress has lived in Bend for the past six years, and before that was in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently, he was the construction project manager for the 67,000-square-foot Miller Elementary School in Bend that became the first Oregon school east of the Cascades to receive a gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.
“There was a consensus among the four funding partners that he was the best guy for the job,” King said. “He definitely has a project management background, which is what we were looking for, and he has kind of immersed himself in the community.”
The contract between Bend 2030 and Brightwater Collaborative LLC is for $44,100, and goes through the end of next year. As a part of the deal, McLandress will have to review and refine the cost estimates and scope of work outlined in a 2009 study that was prepared by the city, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Portland consulting firm ICF Jones & Stokes. That study found it could cost up to $5 million to finish work on a solution for Mirror Pond’s sedimentation issue.
While McLandress’ contract does not call for him to actually come up with the various solutions — which could range anywhere from dredging the pond to removing the Newport Avenue dam to doing nothing and letting nature take its course — he will be responsible for finding a firm to do that study. He will also be involved in finding the funds to perform that alternatives analysis, which some have estimated could cost up to $500,000.
Matt Shinderman, who is a Bend 2030 board member and professor of natural resources at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus, said the hefty cost of the alternatives analysis is one of the major reasons officials wanted to hire a third party like McLandress to scrutinize figures and come up with a refined budget. He added that even if McLandress’s review doesn’t change anything, it is warranted because it’s such a lofty project with a number of different facets.
“It’s just a really complicated project, and as much as I would like for there to be a neat and tidy solution, you’re dealing with almost 100 years of legacy there that you can’t make that go away,” Shinderman said. “I think the group is really interested in not rushing the process because it is highly visible. It’s a big deal, and I think there’s genuine interest in coming up with a long-term viable solution that kind of maximizes the net benefits.”
Perhaps the easiest, and certainly most visible, culprit of Mirror Pond’s sedimentation problem is the dam at the Newport Avenue Bridge. The dam slows the movement of the water and whatever sediment that might be in it, causing the sediment to build up along the edges of the pond. But studies have found there are a number of other factors leading to the high amount of sediment.
“It’s really a symptom of the problems upstream,” Shinderman said. “And it’s not just one problem.”
He said there are some places along the Deschutes River that have had the native vegetation removed or replaced by “turf grass.” The loss of that vegetation makes the banks unstable and causes erosion that deposits sediment in the river.
A much larger issue, however, is the management of the Wickiup Reservoir about 60 miles upstream, Shinderman said. Water released from the reservoir can have a dramatic impact on flows and discharge more sediment into the river depending on the season. According to the 2009 Mirror Pond study, water flows can vary by more than 1,500 cubic feet per second between summer and winter.
“The Mirror Pond group is not going to resolve those issues,” Shinderman said. “(But) what we would like to do is, through this process we would like to bring in all the various partners upstream. And as we’re doing this project, have them do projects upstream that will make this worthwhile.”
McLandress said he’s looking forward to undertaking such a complex project, and is especially excited about it since it’s one that will leave a lasting impression on the community where he now lives.
“Mirror Pond is such an iconic part of Bend that it begs to be fixed,” McLandress said. “This is the first time that we’re really coming to a great synergy in trying to solve the problem.”
One of the most important aspects of his job, he said, will be getting input from the public on what should be included in the scope of work for the alternatives analysis. Like Shinderman, he understands the complexities of the project and realizes a solution will likely involve stakeholders from throughout the region.
He also said he realized this won’t be easy, and with all the various stakeholders, might even involve some controversy.
“The trick is how as a community, based on our values and our changing social fabric, can we adapt to the change that’s happening in Mirror Pond and the change that has been occurring in Mirror Pond for generations,” McLandress said.
“Mother Nature has been altered, and she’s fighting back. We have to make a decision on how we want to adapt to the changes of the appearance of Mirror Pond and to what degree we want to pay for the fix to keep it as is or modify it so water flows faster through the pond and distributes the silt in a different way.”
Source: The Bulletin ©2010