The relicensing of PacifiCorp’s historic dam and powerhouse on the Deschutes River in downtown Bend is a chance for the community to ensure that the utility makes needed improvements in the facility.
It should not be perceived, however, as an opportunity to demand that the company solve all of the environmental problems on the upper Deschutes River—including sediment problems in Mirror Pond.
This week, local, state and federal government officials weighed in with a long list of improvements it sought if PacifiCorp proceeds with plans to operate the facility for another 30 years. Some said the plant should simply be shut down.
Our belief is that PacifiCorp ought to take care of longstanding damage linked directly to operation of the power plant—including the tens of thousands of fish that are sucked into its turbines each year.
If the utility determines that the small amount of power generated at the site is important, given future projected shortages of electricity, then it should pony up the costs of fish screens and passages.
Too, the utility must renovate the old dam. PacifiCorp officials already have agreed to install an inflatable cover over the dam that would help prevent flooding in the event of ice buildup behind the structure.
But the community is mistaken if it believes it can pile any more requests on top of PacifiCorp. The sedimentation of Mirror Pond, for example, is a function of exposed banks, heavy motorboat use and development along the upper Deschutes River. Yes, the sediment builds up where the river is slowed by the dam, but, no, PacifiCorp had nothing to do with the source of the problem.
And if community leaders are serious about PacifiCorp shutting down the project, which agency is willing to step forward and take responsibility for the dam and the historic power plant? Surely, no one seriously believes Bend would be better off without the dam— and, therefore, without Mirror Pond.
It would be fair to ask PacifiCorp to strengthen the dam, take the turbines out of the powerhouse and hand over the keys to the facility. However, those who want to see that happen should be ready to step up and accept those keys, and the responsibility that goes with them.
Source: The Bulletin