Dam leak turns Bend’s Mirror Pond into mudflat

Repairs to begin in early November

Stephen Hamway | The Bulletin @Shamway1 View stories and bio

Bend residents visiting Mirror Pond recently saw exposed berms and portions of the bank normally covered by water, after a small leak in the wooden paneling on Newport Avenue Dam caused water levels at Mirror Pond to drop by 2 feet over the last several days.

Bob Gravely, spokesman for Pacific Power, which manages the dam, said workers discovered the leak Wednesday and are planning to repair it, but may not be able to get heavy equipment in place and start work until early November.

“We think it will take a few weeks to get everything in order,” Gravely said.

The dam, which was built more than a century ago to bring hydroelectric power to Central Oregon, has been increasingly prone to leaks in recent years. Gravely said Pacific Power placed wooden paneling over a defunct outlet in the dam about 25 years ago, but the structure has degraded over time. He noted that this was the fourth leak in the dam since 2008, though this one is less severe than previous leaks.

In prior instances, the utility has had success driving sheet pile — pieces of interlocking steel sheets — into the river bed on the upstream side of the wooden panels, which Gravely said keeps the water from reaching the leaking sheet. After this round of construction, Gravely said the entire face of the dam will be reinforced by the metal sheets, which the utility hopes will prevent future leaks.

“This will allow us to maintain the pond for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The leak was compounded by lower-than-normal water levels throughout the Upper Deschutes due to the end of irrigation season. Kate Fitzpatrick, program director for the Deschutes River Conservancy, said the amount of water in the river normally drops during the start of October, when irrigation districts begin ramping down the water they divert for farmers.

Since the end of September, the amount of water released from Wickiup Reservoir has dropped from 820 cubic feet per second to 105 on Monday, an 87 percent decline, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Gravely said the utility can normally regulate how much water stays in Mirror Pond, but having a hole in the dam affects its ability to do so.

Gravely said he doesn’t expect the leak to get worse, but noted that water levels could be as far as 4 feet below normal before the utility is able to repair the dam.

However, Gravely emphasized that the dropping water levels don’t pose a danger to the public, and added that the decline should be gradual enough to keep the fish in the pond from being stranded.

Mirror Pond collects sediment that flows in from the Deschutes River, which has prompted questions about how best to pay for the dredging of the pond. After a fundraising effort by Mirror Pond Solutions, a company formed in 2013 by local businessmen Bill Smith and Todd Taylor, fell short of its target, representatives from the company, the city of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District have met several times to discuss funding options.

Gravely said the dam construction will take about a month once it begins, and shouldn’t affect the timeline of the proposed dredging effort.

https://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/6600505-151/dam-leak-causes-water-at-mirror-pond-to

Bend City Councilor is optimistic Mirror Pond deal can be reached

Bend City Councilor Mark Capell just met with the CEO of Pacific Power that owns the dam last week and is encouraged they will be able to work something out to satisfy most people.

“What we’re trying to do is come up with a public-private partnership of some sort to answer the question, the community is really divided on what to do with Mirror Pond — river or a pond. The one thing that people feel really strongly about is they don’t want to spend any money and with a public-private partnership we can accomplish that as well.”

Councilor Capell is part of the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc committee tasked with deciding what to do with Mirror Pond.

Capell expects to have designs for the public to look at and offer input on in the next couple weeks.

Source: KBND

Another Mirror Pond ballot measure is in the works

Measure would require city of Bend to get permits before acquiring dam

By Scott Hammers | The Bulletin

A measure that would limit the city of Bend’s ability to acquire the Mirror Pond dam could be headed for the November ballot.

Spencer Dahl, who’s been active in the various committees and public meetings surrounding the future of Mirror Pond, submitted the paperwork to begin collecting signatures for the measure a little over a week ago. If 15 percent of registered voters within the city sign his petitions by Aug. 6, it will go before voters in the November election.

Dahl’s measure would prohibit the city from taking ownership or control of the dam unless it has already obtained one of two permits: the federal permit needed to operate the dam as an updated hydroelectric generation facility, or the state water right permit to operate it as a nongenerating dam.

The idea of the city or the Bend Park & Recreation District acquiring the dam that creates Mirror Pond has gained traction since December, when dam owner Pacifi­Corp announced it was no longer interested in operating the dam long term. The utility has since repaired a hole in the dam that prompted the announcement, but is continuing to discuss the possible transfer of the dam with officials from the city and the park district.

Dahl said his ballot measure is an attempt to focus the discussion on what he believes is the central issue: Should the Mirror Pond dam continue to be a hydroelectric facility or not? He said his research suggests it’s unlikely the state would grant the water rights needed for the dam to remain if it’s not generating electricity, and if that’s the case, many of the ideas now up for discussion may be pointless.

“If we’re spending money on coming up with all these plans and ideas that may or may not happen without this water right, why don’t we focus on getting this water right first?” Dahl said. “It’s absolutely critical — without the water right, all these plans are a waste of time and money.”

Dahl said he’s personally open to a variety of options for Mirror Pond and the dam, though he’s fairly certain the current dam will eventually come out. He said there’s no need to rush a decision: The recently repaired leak washed away much of the sediment that had accumulated on the floor of the pond, and with the repairs, the dam could have another 10 to 20 years as a viable power generation facility.

“I think there’s a great sense of false urgency in the whole process,” he said. “From the beginning: ‘Mirror Pond’s going to disappear if we don’t do this right away.’ They’ve been saying that for the last 10 years.”

Dahl’s measure is distinct from two Mirror Pond ballot measures being advanced by Foster Fell. Fell’s proposed ballot measures would bar the city and the park district from spending public funds on any improvements at the Mirror Pond or the dam without providing for fish passages and habitat restoration.

https://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/2003373-151/another-mirror-pond-ballot-measure-is-in-the

Editorial: Mirror Pond dam report shouldn’t be secret

The audacity is stunning: Taxpayers spent $23,500 for an independent study of the Mirror Pond dam, but they can’t see the results without permission from PacifiCorp, the private company that owns the dam.

That’s because Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton and Mirror Pond Project Manager Jim Figurski signed a nondisclosure agreement they say gives the utility company the right to decide if the report can be released.

According to an email from PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely, the nondisclosure agreement was necessary because the company gave “information about vendors, contracts, employee salaries and other information that is typically considered commercially sensitive by any business.” They want to review the report and redact any such information before it is released. The public will never know just what was redacted and whether its removal was appropriate.

Bend City Councilors Mark Capell and Victor Chudowsky are properly critical of the situation. Both are members of the Mirror Pond committee charged with determining the pond’s future. We agree with their assertion that the public needs to see the full report so it can make a good decision, and with Capell’s position that there’s no reason for the report to contain any proprietary information.

Horton has additionally said the report is not complete, but that’s no reason for secrecy. Draft reports are public record every bit as much as final versions.

The painful, drawn-out process of resolving the future of Mirror Pond has been anything but transparent. When the latest committee was formed, it tried to hold its meetings in secret, refusing admission to a Bulletin editorial writer. Earlier, results of an online survey were presented as if they reflected the will of the community when in fact only a small segment of people responded.

PacifiCorp has financial obligations to its owners that may well be at odds with the community’s interests. It’s not a criticism of either side to acknowledge their unavoidable adversarial positions. Giving the private side veto power over what the public can know is unacceptable, no matter how good the intentions.

https://www.bendbulletin.com/opinion/editorials/1994007-151/editorial-mirror-pond-dam-report-shouldnt-be-secret

Dam inspection report under wraps

Bend park officials say PacifiCorp to decide on disclosure

By Hillary Borrud | The Bulletin

Bend Park & Recreation District officials say they will let the utility company that owns Mirror Pond dam decide whether the public gets to see a taxpayer-funded inspection report on the structure .

At least on the surface, that decision appears to be at odds with how city councilors and utility company officials want to proceed. In fact, each party involved has a different idea on how the park district should handle the report. A PacifiCorp spokesman said the decision on whether to release the report is up to the park district, while two city councilors involved in the process said on Monday the report is part of an important community discussion and should be released to the public. PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the utility would like to see the report and possibly redact sections of it before the public would see it.

The park district, a government agency that is separate from the city of Bend, hired Phoenix, Ariz.-based contractor Gannett Fleming Inc. to inspect the dam on the Deschutes River last month and provide an independent opinion of its condition. The inspection is supposed to provide crucial information on future dam maintenance costs for city councilors and park district officials, who are negotiating to acquire the dam from owner PacifiCorp.

The park district will pay $23,500 for the inspection and report, Mirror Pond Project Manager Jim Figurski wrote in a recent email. However, Figurski and park district Executive Director Don Horton wrote in emails that because they signed a nondisclosure agreement with PacifiCorp, the utility has the legal right to decide whether the district can release the report. Figurski and Horton declined to provide a copy of the report to The Bulletin without permission from PacifiCorp.

City Councilor Mark Capell said on Monday that because this is an independent inspection report on the dam, it should not contain any of PacifiCorp’s proprietary information. Capell and City Councilor Victor Chudowsky are both members of the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee, a group that includes park board members and citizens and is tasked with deciding the future of Mirror Pond.

“In my opinion, the community needs the information to make a good decision,” Capell said. “So it’s information that needs to be released.”

Chudowsky agreed. “I think the main thing is the community needs to know whether we’re taking over an asset or a liability, and how big that asset or liability is,” Chudowsky said. “It’s critical information, absolutely critical.”

Last fall, the century-old dam sprang a leak and after PacifiCorp conducted its own inspection, company officials said repairs at the hydroelectric project would be too costly to pencil out for their ratepayers. It was the third leak in five years at the dam. Then in February, the utility company changed course and agreed to repair the leak. A PacifiCorp spokesman said in February that the utility estimated the repairs would cost $250,000.

Gannett Fleming has written a report on its inspection of the dam. However, Horton wrote in an email that in his opinion, the inspection report is not yet complete. “I reviewed it late last week and will be asking the consultants to clarify some of their findings,” Horton wrote in the April 7 email. Horton did not say what he asked the consultants to clarify .

The nondisclosure agreement, which names the park district as a potential purchaser of the dam and the city of Bend as an interested party, states that documents created with confidential information from PacifiCorp can only be released with the utility’s consent. It’s unclear at this point whether there is any confidential information from PacifiCorp in the inspection report.

Gravely confirmed last week that the utility wants to see the report before the public does.

“I think ultimately they own the report, so it will be their decision,” Gravely said of the park district. However, he said, the utility company does want to review the park district’s report before it is released to the public and might ask the district to redact sections of it.

“I think the only thing we would want to do first is to make sure there’s no commercially sensitive, confidential information that was provided under the nondisclosure agreement,” Gravely said. “We wouldn’t have a problem with the report itself being released and that would ultimately be their decision.”

Gravely said PacifiCorp employees have not yet seen the report, so he did not know what type of information the utility would consider to be commercially sensitive and want to redact.

Gravely said PacifiCorp executives have not met with local officials since December to negotiate the possible transfer of dam ownership because officials were waiting to learn the findings of the inspection.

https://www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/1967812-151/dam-inspection-report-under-wraps

A close look at Bend’s Mirror Pond dam

The committee looking into what should be done with Mirror Pond got an up-close look at the leaking dam there Wednesday, joining representatives of Pacifi­Corp on a tour of the more than 100-year-old facility.

The ad hoc committee, formed last fall, includes representatives from the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and the general public. It will weigh in on the relative merits of dredging the pond, keeping the dam, which is owned by PacifiCorp, removing the dam and other alternatives.

The group’s tour came one day before a team of consultants hired by the park district is due to arrive in Bend to inspect the dam. PacifiCorp has been lowering the level of Mirror Pond in recent days to allow for a safe inspection, but water levels should be headed back up this weekend.

Jim Figurski, the head of the park district’s efforts on Mirror Pond-related matters, said the inspection should provide a better idea of what kind of maintenance costs the city or park district would have to bear if they were to acquire the dam from Pacifi­Corp. PacifiCorp has committed to repairing a hole that opened up in the dam last fall, dropping water levels to nearly 7 feet below seasonal normals, but is looking to divest itself of the dam as a generation facility.

“Part of the analysis is what would we need to do for a 50-year or more fix, not just a 10-year fix or a near-term fix,” Figurski said.

He expects the consultants will have a complete report for the committee by the end of the month.

On the back deck of the powerhouse, members of the tour group learned Wednesday how the gates at the base of the dam can be manipulated to control how much water flows out, allowing the dam operator to maintain Mirror Pond at a consistent elevation.

They peeked into buckets of bottles, cans and old tennis balls that are scattered across the dam property, all of them retrieved from the pond above the dam with the help of a long-handled net.

Descending a ladder to a wide lawn hemmed in by the dam on the upstream side and barbed wire on the downstream side, the group examined a now rarely used gate at the north edge of the spillway, where boards can be removed to discharge ice and debris into a crudely constructed rock and concrete sluice gate.

Water seeps through several points along the concrete dam face, nourishing thick cushions of moss sprouting from the stained walls, and as suggested by the footprints dotting the mud below, a handful of raccoons and other small animals that find their way through the fences.

Mark Tallman, vice president of renewable resources for PacifiCorp, said the seepage is a cosmetic problem more than a safety issue.

“The dam is just like a drafty house, it’s just old,” he said.

Visitors donned fireproof suits before venturing inside the powerhouse, where three large generating wheels sat idle Wednesday on account of the lowered water levels. When turning, the three generators can produce enough electricity to power 300 to 400 homes.

Tallman told tour members the powerhouse is still potentially dangerous even when the generators aren’t spinning due to a live power line running across the ceiling that — under the right circumstances — can throw off high-voltage arcs. The controls for the adjacent substation are also inside the powerhouse, Tallman said, cautioning the visitors to avoid touching any of the equipment.

“It is possible, if you accidentally touch or move the wrong handle, you could put Bend in the dark,” he said.

Scott Wallace, a member of the park district board and a member of the ad hoc committee, said he expects the behind-the-scenes tour will prove useful once the engineering report is complete. Until Wednesday, Wallace said he only had a hazy idea of what went on at the Mirror Pond dam.

“I grew up in Bend, and this is the closest I’ve ever come to the powerhouse,” he said.

City Councilor and committee member Victor Chudowsky said he was impressed by the architecture of the powerhouse. If the city or the park district acquires the dam someday, it would be ideal if the powerhouse could be preserved, he said, possibly as some kind of small museum where visitors could learn about how electricity is generated and about a notable piece of Bend history.

Chudowsky said the tour confirmed much of what he already knew — that the dam is old, and in places, starting to fail. Though its days as a power generation facility may be numbered, the dam may still be the easiest and least expensive way to preserve Mirror Pond into the future, he said.

“Really, what we need to be deciding is, is this an asset or a liability, then go from there,” Chudowsky said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

Editorial: PacifiCorp does what is right

PacifiCorp has now demonstrated a gift for doing what’s right on Mirror Pond. It just needs to demonstrate a few more gifts.

The company announced Tuesday that it would fix one of the leaks in the dam.

The leak helped make the pond look and smell about as pleasant as inhaling a noseful of skunk.

There was the potential that lower water levels would continue right through the summer. Boating and paddling could be curtailed. Floating wouldn’t be much fun. Swimming would be reserved for people with short arms. And for accuracy’s sake, the pond’s name should be switched to Muddy Pond.

In December, PacifiCorp said the dam would not be repaired, because it was not cost effective for the amount of power it produced. The tune has changed. Mark Tallman, PacifiCorp’s vice president for renewable resources, says it fully understands the community’s concern about the potential for low water levels during summer recreation months.

“It’s possible Mirror Pond would have remained full this summer without this fix, but in our view this is the right action to take at this time,” Tallman said.

It will enable PacifiCorp to restore hydro generation. PacifiCorp also says it should help negotiations with the Bend community to determine if keeping the dam intact is a better option than removal. The cost of the repair is estimated at $250,000.

With that issue seemingly resolved, the Mirror Pond committee is working on getting the community better information so it can make a good decision. The public really needs to know how much it would cost to remove the dam and do any mitigation and how much it would cost to continue to operate the dam and keep the silt buildup under control.

We support keeping the pond, but that does depend on what it would cost.

Now that PacifiCorp has taken this right step, what will it do next?

PacifiCorp’s new release about fixing the dam acknowledges it may have some interests that are not the same as the community’s.

“The company is very committed to trying to find the best possible outcome regarding this facility that balances the community’s priorities for Mirror Pond and our regulatory obligations,” it says. And it goes on to add that “we are hopeful an agreement can be reached that allows this to happen and also protects the interest of our rate-paying customers in Bend and throughout our six-state service area.”

We hope that is true, too.

Utility to fix Bend’s Mirror Pond dam

PacifiCorp announced on Tuesday that it will repair the leak in Mirror Pond dam in April, in time for people to enjoy higher water levels on the Deschutes River this summer.

One of the wooden panels in the dam began leaking in October, and since then, the water level has sunk, leaving visible the mud flats that have been building up in the Mirror Pond section of the river. The utility stopped generating power at the dam after it discovered the leak, and executives have been meeting with a Bend city councilor and the executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District to discuss the possibility of transferring ownership of the dam to a government agency.

PacifiCorp plans to install a steel sheet piling upstream of the leaking panel, according to a news release from the utility.

Once the dam is repaired, PacifiCorp will again begin generating electricity at the dam, Mark Tallman, PacifiCorp’s vice president for renewable resources, said in the release.

Tallman also said it is possible Mirror Pond would have filled up anyway this summer, when more water will be released from Wickiup Reservoir.

In December, PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said it would not be cost effective to repair the dam because it produced a meager amount of electricity. On Tuesday, Gravely said utility executives decided to repair the dam for different reasons.

Gravely said PacifiCorp hopes that repairing the dam will make it easier for the utility and local officials to reach an agreement to transfer the dam to a local government agency. “We don’t intend to generate (electricity) long-term, so fixing one leak for that purpose wouldn’t make sense.”

Gravely said PacifiCorp estimates that fixing the leak will cost $250,000.

Park district Executive Director Don Horton recently called for PacifiCorp to repair the dam to prevent further damage to the structure and ensure the river will be safe for boaters and others recreating on the river this summer.

Regarding PacifiCorp’s announcement, Horton said, “It shows that PacifiCorp has been listening to the community’s needs and trying to do their part in this negotiation process that we’re going through, to figure out a long-term solution to Mirror Pond and the dam.”

PacifiCorp also met privately on Tuesday afternoon with City Councilor Mark Capell and Horton to continue negotiating a possible transfer of ownership of the dam. Capell and Horton are members of the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee tasked with deciding the future of the pond. They were joined in the negotiating session by Ned Dempsey, a citizen member of the committee. Dempsey is a civil engineer who owns a home across from Drake Park.

The committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. today to discuss a proposal from committee member and park board Chairman Scott Wallace to appoint Dempsey to the small group that is meeting with PacifiCorp. However, Horton said Tuesday that Wallace went ahead and appointed Dempsey without waiting for a public meeting.

Capell said that during the meeting Tuesday, Bend officials and PacifiCorp discussed proposals from firms that want to conduct an independent inspection of the dam on behalf of the park district. Capell had to leave the meeting during discussion of a proposal from HDR, a large engineering firm where Capell’s brother Paul Capell works. Capell has said PacifiCorp should repair the Mirror Pond dam and give it to the community, and on Tuesday, he said the announcement that the utility will repair the dam does not mean it will be worth more. “It’s not going to make them any money, for sure,” Capell said. Nonetheless, Capell said the utility’s decision to fix the leak is a positive development. “I thought that was an outstanding step forward by (PacifiCorp),” Capell said.

Mirror Pond dropping again Monday

The water behind the Newport Avenue Dam should start dropping Monday, allowing crews from PacifiCorp to inspect the leak that’s turned much of Mirror Pond into a mudflat.

The company that owns and operates the downtown Bend dam discovered the leak Oct. 2. Water levels in Mirror Pond dropped by roughly 2 feet in the days that followed as water drained through the leak. The pond then rebounded briefly as water managers upstream adjusted flows in the Deschutes River to prepare for the end of irrigation season. The water level has since receded a second time, stabilizing at around 2 feet below its typical winter level. PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the company now plans to draw down the water even further in order to get a better look at the damaged area starting Monday.

Gravely said it’s unclear how far the water will have to come down to allow crews to inspect the leak.

“We don’t know exactly. What’s going to happen is, our folks will be at the dam monitoring it, and there will come a time when they say, ‘We can do this now,'” he said.

Under state law, if a water release from a dam is likely to create excessive turbidity — suspended silt — downstream, the dam operator must seek permission from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Eric Nigg, water quality manager for the DEQ Bend office, said his office granted PacifiCorp permission to lower water levels under a provision that allows violations of the state’s turbidity standards under narrowly defined standards.

In consultation with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the DEQ settled on allowing PacifiCorp to drain the pond at a rate of 2 inches per hour, and refill it at a rate of 4 inches per hour. Nigg said the “ramp rate,” as it’s called, should minimize downstream turbidity and the risk that fish could be stranded by rapidly falling water. The utility had originally requested a ramp rate of 6 inches per hour both for lowering and raising the water level, Nigg said.

Under the conditions set by DEQ, PacifiCorp will be monitoring turbidity levels and any fish stranding during its operations.

Gravely said PacifiCorp suspects the risk to fish and other wildlife is minimal.

“We don’t think it’s very likely here at all,” he said. “The pond, it’s already down, and this will be done so gradually we don’t think it’s very likely.”

Gravely said the draw down of water is likely to take two to three days, while actual inspection is expected to last about eight hours. Any repairs to the dam are likely to occur at a later date, which would necessitate another draw down of water levels.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013