Get Mirror Pond fixed, not studied

Ask most Bend residents and most visitors what they think of when they think of Bend, and one thing is sure to top the list. That’s Mirror Pond, along which Drake Park runs through the heart of Bend.

Yet the pond is in danger of disappearing even as city government and others continue to study the issue to death.

The newest attempt to decide what to do with the pond, which is becoming ever more clogged with silt, was announced this week. The city, the local park district, Pacific Power and William Smith Properties have combined resources and hired a project manager to study the problem and analyze possible solutions. Hooray! Let’s all just hope it doesn’t take Michael McLandress of Brightwater Collaborative LLC six years to complete his work.

That’s how long a current fix to the pond’s silting problems has been in the planning stages. First news accounts of the effort appeared way back in 2004, and they’ve cropped up every few months since then. Unfortunately, the planning continues apace while we seem no nearer an answer than we were six years ago. Most recent estimates of the cost to fix the pond were $5 million, though that may well have changed by now.

Contrast all that with the last dredging of the pond, which occurred in 1983. Neighbors along the pond got together and came up with a plan to remove the silt that had built up there; they went to City Council, got the plan approved and the project was done in under a year. Total cost? Just about $300,000.

Clearly, Bend is a more complicated place today than it was way back in 1983. Any plan to clear silt — the product, in part, of fluctuating river flows that occur when water is impounded upstream — must include a variety of options from which to choose. Those options no doubt will cover the spectrum from doing nothing to a full-scale attempt to restore the pond to what it looked like when it was created in 1910 after Pacific Power built the dam on its south end.

In reality, though, doing nothing is really not an option, nor are other possibilities that do not restore the look of the pond. It’s simply too important a part of Bend and its history to be allowed to disappear under silt and vegetation. That may be more “natural,” but natural is hardly the goal in this case, or, if it is, it shouldn’t be. Rather, the goal should be to preserve this one part of Bend’s history that doesn’t center on timber or snow or agriculture but instead is valued and always has been valued simply because it is beautiful.

It’s unclear why, after six years, we’re not much closer to clearing the pond than we were in the beginning. We are not, however, and every added delay is likely to drive costs up still further. Knowing that, McLandress and those who hired him should set themselves an aggressive schedule and get the job done. Finally.

Source: The Bulletin ©2010

Fish passage is too much to ask

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife should recognize this truth: Two small hydroelectric projects on local irrigation canals will benefit fish, not hurt them. So why punish the irrigation districts with a burdensome and unnecessary mandate?

Swalley Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District are installing hydro projects on irrigation canals five miles and two miles, respectively, away from the Deschutes River. The projects will be built on the canals, not the river, and because the canals are screened, no fish are in them. In other words, the projects add no further risk to fish anywhere on the Deschutes.

Nevertheless, ODFW argues, the districts and a third — North Unit Irrigation District — must pay for a fish passage at the diversion dam in Bend. It can, if it wishes, push the three into building the passage now, or it can take a broader and more well thought out approach. To do the latter, ODFW officials must consider not just one sliver of the problem, but the issue as a whole.

State law currently gives the department broad authority to demand that fish passages be built when irrigation districts and others make improvements to systems that put obstructions into rivers. In this sense, the law resembles those that require many buildings be made accessible to the handicapped when they undergo major renovation.

Unlike the latter law, however, rules governing fish passage improvements apparently give the department the authority to demand improvements even when the projects have no impact on an already existing obstruction. If the rules were the same for human accessibility upgrades, your local grocer could be required to build expensive handicap access facilities because the store a few miles down the road added on to its floral shop.

Not only does the fish passage requirement seem unjust, it also fails to weigh other aspects of improvements to fish habitat that result from projects like these two.

In addition to the hydro generation facilities, they include piping of existing canals. When the piping is completed, less water will seep through the beds of irrigation ditches, and more will remain behind in the Deschutes River.

In the final analysis, both ODFW and irrigation districts must weigh costs and benefits when planning projects and applying regulations to those projects. If irrigators decide a project is too expensive because of fish passage requirements, it won’t be built. At that point, ODFW not only misses grabbing money for fish passage, it also loses the water that a piping project, for instance, would return to the river. The fish, which the agency is charged with protecting, are the losers.

Sen. Chris Telfer hopes the agency will see the problem with its current insistence on enforcing rules without thinking about alternatives. If not, she’s prepared to introduce legislation to force change. It shouldn’t have to come to that.

Source: The Bulletin ©2010

Regulation drives up cost of solution at Mirror Pond

Just about 25 years ago, the city of Bend dredged Mirror Pond at a cost of $312,000. Now it faces the need to do the work again, but the price tag has skyrocketed, and it could cost as much as $5 million to do the same job.

My, how things have changed.

What has not changed is the necessity of the job. Mirror Pond is perhaps the single most identifiable feature of Bend and has been so almost since the day the city was formed. It shows up on postcards, on Christmas cards and in family photos. It is the focal point of the city’s most visible park, Drake, and enhances the recreational opportunities that already abound there. If Bend has a heart, it is found in the quiet waters of Mirror Pond.

Almost everything else has changed.

Twenty-five years ago, the city and its citizens were not obligated to consider a variety of alternatives to dredging. That alone will drive up the cost of the current project tremendously. So, too, will the need to answer to a whole host of agencies as the project progresses. Today, the project will involve the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, each of which will seek specific information about the project before it allows dredging to progress.

It may well be, as officials have suggested, that it isn’t that regulation has driven the cost of the project up so much this time as interest in the project. That may be true, as far as it goes. It simply doesn’t go far enough.

Interest in all things environmental has grown in the years since the first dredging was completed. There’s more emphasis on keeping water clean and cool, more emphasis on wildlife that lives in and along the river, more worry about downstream impacts from work on the pond itself. Too, there’s far more emphasis on public involvement in any project of this type than there was in the early 1980s.

All that interest has served to increase regulation of such things as a Mirror Pond dredging, and that regulation plays a major role in the high price predicted for the current project. So yes, interest has driven the price right up, but it’s done so by increasing the regulatory hoops the city must go through to get the project done.

Source: The Bulletin ©2009

More study won’t cure Mirror Pond

Choose the one feature that most anyone who has heard of Bend will remember, and it’s Mirror Pond, created in 1910 when a dam was built at its northern end to provide power for the city of Bend. It is arguably the city’s most photographed feature, a staple on postcards and, flanked by public parks as it is, as much a town square gathering place as there is in this community.

But Mirror Pond has problems. Thanks in part to Deschutes River fluctuations, in part to the removal of log decks to the south and other problems, the pond has silted up dramatically in recent years. It last was dredged in 1984, and it’s clear that unless the city does something to correct the situation in the near future, what is now a pond will become a mudflat with a river running down its middle.

Bend city councilors know all that, and have, in fact, made it clear they don’t want that to happen. They understand the pond’s importance; they’re having more trouble coming to grips with what to do to correct its problems.

That may be understandable. While the earlier dredging cost less than $500,000, a similar process would be dramatically more expensive today, and the city simply doesn’t have the money. It had hoped for about half a million dollars in federal funds this year, but it hasn’t received it. The $200,000 it has set aside would cover a mere fraction of a bill that almost surely will top $1 million.

Now, councilors are waffling about what to do next, so much so that they’re talking about partnering with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to — you guessed it — study the situation yet again, come up with options and go forth from there. That almost surely would push any solution back by at least a year, perhaps longer.

In reality, there’s no need to study anything. Councilors have said what they want to do with the pond: They want, or wanted, to restore it to what it was after dredging in 1984. That’s the best plan — anything that changes its looks changes the very heart of Bend in most people’s minds. Rather than dithering, studying and fussing for another year or more, councilors should concentrate on the real issue at hand: Finding the money to fix the pond as soon as possible, nothing more.

Source: The Bulletin ©2007

Blurred vision for Mirror Pond

Imagine it’s the year 2030 in Bend. If you are like us, you envision Mirror Pond remaining a pond — not deteriorating into a mud flat.

The Bend City Council shares that vision. It’s just that the council’s focus sometimes goes blurry.

The council has $200,000 set aside in the current budget for Mirror Pond. It’s not the $700,000 that the city had hoped for because a $490,000 contribution from the federal government isn’t coming. At least $200,000 is enough to do some limited dredging.

Councilor Jim Clinton says the $200,000 will buy the city some time to come up with a more permanent solution. Dredging the pond is a temporary fix. The pond was last dredged in 1984 at a cost of $312,000. Sediment has been piling up in the pond since then.

We don’t know the best way to spend the $200,000. But wouldn’t it be nice if the city was closer to its vision of Mirror Pond and its $700,000 goal?

It could have been. Remember the city’s joy ride into visioning known as Bend 2030?

The city held public meetings. Some residents got motivated to think about the future of the city. A visioning document was produced. And the City Council embraced it, declaring that it would review its long-term plans to promote alignment with the vision.

What has happened since then? Well, Bend 2030 gets mentioned in passing from time to time at council meetings. We would think if something significant was going on, it would be reported at a council meeting.

The trouble with Bend 2030 was that it purported to show citywide agreement from limited input. And many of its starry-eyed hopes and dreams required new taxes, regulations and fat expenditures to build difficult to sustain projects, such as a performing arts center or a museum of fine arts.

The price tag for the visioning process was more than $160,000. The city’s continuing contribution is supposed to be in the form of half the assistant city manager’s time being dedicated to making the vision a reality. That means the city’s contribution is looking more like $200,000, so far.

The point is from the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city spent on visioning, what it got was less money to create the reality everyone wants.

Source: The Bulletin ©2007

Right call on Mirror Pond

The city of Bend must decide soon what to do about Mirror Pond. It was last dredged some 22 years ago, a temporary solution to sedimentation problems that would, experts said, last about 20 years ago.

The experts were right, and now the city must decide how to keep the pond healthy. One possible solution was effectively taken off the table this week by the City Council, with which, we suspect, most Bend residents will agree.

The simplest solution to Mirror Pond’s sediment problems, which are caused by flow fluctuations upstream as water is stored and released from Wickiup Reservoir, would be to remove all restrictions that further impede the river and simply let it do what it would do naturally. Yet that in itself is a problem, and a major one: Remove the dams along the river, and there goes Mirror Pond as the Des- chutes reverts to a more natural, prepond channel.

If your idea of what makes a good river is exactly and only what nature intended, that makes sense. But if your sense of what Bend is, where its heart lies, what bits of physical beauty its residents and guests enjoy, the idea of allowing Mirror Pond to disappear simply won’t do. Mirror Pond and the two parks along its banks are, arguably, the most heavily visited spots in the city, and with good reason. The pond itself has formed the visual heart of the community for nearly 100 years, ever since the Pacific Power & Light dam at its north end was built in 1909-10.

City councilors recognized the pond’s importance at their most recent meeting when they told members of their technical advisory committee on the pond that solutions to the river’s sediment problems cannot involve destroying the pond. While councilors say they wish to leave the committee’s options as varied as possible, that one restriction will, or course, limit them at least somewhat.

So be it. Councilors were dead right on this one. Mirror Pond is Bend to many who live and visit here, and because it is, the city must preserve it. That may cost money, but the pond is worthy of our protection.

Source: The Bulletin ©2006

Muddying the pond

A Bend City Council that lets Mirror Pond become Mirror Mudflat will be infamous. Except for Pilot Butte, there’s perhaps no geographic feature more closely identified with Bend than the pond formed by the idling Deschutes River. And there’s probably nobody who wants Deschutes Brewery to replace Mirror Pond Pale Ale with Mirror Mudflat – a turbid dark ale with a bitter aftertaste.

So how should the city decide about dredging before the pond turns to a muddy mess? The council could:

A) Keep some of the debate in secret. Delay release of a study done by the staff of Public Works about sedimentation, dredging and timetables.

B) Keep the debate open. Publicize the options the city has and what causes the buildup of sedimentation.

For a city government that prides itself on its openness, we have to wonder why it recently chose option A and refused to release the study of the pond’s sedimentation.

The city said the document isn’t finished yet.

Hrrmm…

So the study with all its suggestions was released to city councilors before it was finished?

We think it’s important that the public know that the city may face problems with sediment islands in the pond being defined as wetlands. We think it’s important that the public know that the city may have to act quickly before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires that the city purchase wetlands elsewhere before it does dredging. We think it’s important that the public know the city’s plans to hold public hearings and establish a task force to develop the best approach to dredging. We think it’s important that the public know that the city wants to also look at addressing the causes of the sedimentation. And we think the study that tells us all that should be up on the city’s Web site.

Now, the city may argue that it was going to tell all when it was good and ready. And city officials may say that many of those issues have already been publicly discussed.

So why refuse to cough up the report? We think the interests of the public are better served by a stronger commitment to openness than the city has demonstrated so far with respect to Mirror Pond. If city government were capable of waltzing over to Mirror Pond and gazing down at its reflection, what it would see these days is a closed door.

Source: The Bulletin ©2006

The community wants too much

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

Return Pond’s days of glory

Karen Willard/The Bulletin
Karen Willard/The Bulletin

If Mirror Pond, perhaps Bend’s best known geographic feature, ever regains its original glory it will be due to the efforts of Dick Carlson and Art Johnson and a host of others interested in the project. The idea of eliminating the pond’s present shallow areas has been discussed for several years. Now it finally appears something may be done.

The pond was created by an early-day power dam, still in existence, which backed up the Deschutes enough to create a head for a relatively small electric generator. That plant, plus some surplus power generated from burning lumber mill waste, was adequate to supply the city’s needs when those needs were limited, essentially to public and private lighting. (Growth of the city, plus growth in electric use occasioned by increased lighting, industrial uses, more home appliances and considerable space heating, means the dam at the foot of the pond now supplies only a fraction of current needs.)

The pond slowly has filled. Much of the debris — which has left room for only a few inches of water over much of the pond’s surface — has been caused as light earth and pumice disturbed by fluctuating flows after the creation of Wickiup Reservoir tumbled into the Deschutes. The flows, used by irrigationists, will continue to fluctuate and to erode the river’s upstream banks. The pond, then, will have to be dredged — at intervals of a number of years – if it is to be kept deep enough to inhibit the growth of algae and aquatic weeds.

A city paid study has come up with an estimate that it will take somewhat less than $300,000 to do the job. Carlson, Johnson and others have come up with a way to raise the money. Assessments of a few cents per square foot of property owned by those whose property abuts the riverbanks, or those whose property is improved by a view of the river — including public property — would do the job.

That leaves two questions to answer. Is the proposed method of raising the money fair to all concerned? And will dredging the pond seriously reduce its use by waterfowl, one of Drake Park’s major attractions, particularly to youngsters?

The answer to the first one is easy. The system is about as fair as can be developed. To be sure, riverside residents would have to pay an assessment on their property, plus their share of city and parks and recreation district taxes. But their property values, as a percentage of the total values in either the city or the parks and recreation district, are so low the idea of triple taxation can safely be ignored. The small extra amount it will cost them is insignificant.

The answer to the second question is a little harder. Ducks and geese should continue to use the pond’s islands for spring nesting grounds as soon as the dredging is completed. Ducks and geese are grazers, and can continue to feed on pond-front lawns and on extra feed provided by residents and tourists during the summer. But winter waterfowl get most of their feed from aquatic weeds which grow in the summer. Most of the weeds will disappear after the pond is deepened. Fewer buffleheads and golden-eyes and widgeon and coot can be expected to occupy the pond during winter months.

But the pond once again would be deep enough so that geese will swim, rather than walk, at its upper end. The summer’s unsightly algae bloom rafts will disappear. That seems to be worth the cost, both to nearby residents and those property owners in the city and parks and recreation district who would make much smaller individual contributions, as little as a few cents a year, to the project.

Source: The Bulletin ©1982

Deschutes claims another victim

The Deschutes has reached out again.

This time it took the life of an 11-year-old boy in the upper reaches of the Mirror Pond near Gilchrist Footbridge.

Through the years, the Deschutes in the immediate Bend area has taken more than 20 lives. Nine persons died in the river in or close to bend the first year mirror Pond was filled following construction of the power dam in 1909.

One of the river tragedies occurred on a summer evening in 1928 when a candidate for president of the United States, representing a minor party, lost his life in an attempt to rescue a boy who, had fallen from the Drake Park span while fishing.

But despite the heavy toll taken by the river, the Deschutes is treated contemptuously. Disregarding a city ordinance, youngsters still fish from the Drake Park bridge.

They not only fish from the span, but dangerously dangle over the stream, swift and treacherous as the heavy reservoir flow races through the channel.

Only the other evening, a 3-year-old boy ran out on the bridge, crawled to the top rail and started to throw a leg across when stopped by a passerby.

During Mirror Pond Pageant days, youngsters played on the booms. They not only played, but ran down the swaying timber.

The Deschutes in Bend is a beautiful stream, but it is dangerous.

Parents might pass this information on to youngsters.

Source: The Bend Bulletin ©1962