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.


Park district is set on turning Mirror Pond into wetland

While we blissfully enjoy all that Drake Park and Mirror Pond offer to our community, your park and recreation district is quietly working to inalterably change it from the iconic pond that is the face of Bend, to a wetland complete with narrow river, cattails, reeds and sloping banks.

I recently attended a “community outreach” event hosted by Jim Figurski, the project manager for the “Mirror Pond Visioning Project.” He presented four options, one of which included dredging the pond and otherwise leaving it alone. He then spent our time explaining why that won’t work — too expensive, too much mud, too much trucking, too short-lived and the dam is too old. It became apparent that a “natural” river is viewed by the district as the only sensible choice, with wetlands and natural vegetation making up the greatly expanded banks adjoining Drake Park.

It quickly became obvious that the unintended consequences of the destruction of Mirror Pond have not been considered. Figurski opined that mosquitoes would not be a problem in the newly formed wetlands because the cattails would blow in the wind, drowning the mosquito eggs.

Though much time and money has been spent controlling ducks and geese, the audience was assured that the profusion of nesting areas resulting in more water fowl would not be a problem because the birds’ line of sight to the water would be obscured by the vegetation along the river bank, making them too nervous to use the lawn. He dismissed the idea of people and animals swimming, saying it is against city ordinances. The danger of children traveling through the underbrush and into the river unobserved was not discussed. Nor were ticks and the threat of disease posed by mosquitoes.

He focused on the age of the dam. He sang the praises of a natural river, ignoring the fact that there are two dams just downstream of the power company dam that would prevent the river from being “natural,” even if the dam were removed. The silt that would fill the downstream dam if the first were removed was clearly not considered.

When asked why the questionnaire sent out to residents did not request a preference as to whether to keep the park as it is, he replied that, like a doctor, the park district could not make a decision until first identifying the symptoms. Apparently the district, like a doctor, will decide what is wrong and make a decision as to how best to treat it. He rejected the idea of a vote, saying the people get to decide whether to vote money for parks but the district decides how to spend it.

I must confess a bias. I have occupied an office across from Mirror Pond for the past 30 years, watching people walk along the river, play and picnic on the lawns, and fish, swim and float in the quiet waters. Visitors are quick to assure me how lucky I am to have a view of the beautiful place that makes Bend so special.

I hunt, fish and enjoy the natural rivers with which we are blessed. The Deschutes flows naturally for hundreds of miles, from Wickiup to the Bill Healy Bridge, from Bend to Billy Chinook and on to the Columbia. The continued maintenance of our beautiful pond in the heart of Bend is not too much to ask. You can visit the parks district website at www.mirrorpondbend.com. If you do not act, Mirror Pond, as we know it, will be history.

— Bruce Brothers lives in Bend.

Children rescued from sticky mud

Firefighters pulled four cold and frightened children from the sticky mud of Mirror Pond late Tuesday afternoon after they sunk to their waists while looking for crawdads.

The four youngsters spent 45 minutes in the icy muck before rescuers could pull them out. All four had dangerously low body temperatures and three were taken to St. Charles Medical Center for evaluation following the ordeal.

“All of them were very, very cold,” said Capt. Bob Madden of the Bend Fire Department. The children had body temperatures as low as 93 degrees, low enough to induce hypothermia.

Tyler Nicoll, age 9, and Chelsea Nicoll and Chris Moe, both 8, were released from the hospital after being examined. Patricia Kitelinger, 10, was taken home after the rescue.

According to a report, at least two of the children had stopped on their way home from school to catch crawdads in the Descutes River, which has been lowered to allow repairs to Pacific Power’s dam. The operation has exposed large mud flats in Mirror Pond.

The children ventured across the flats and sunk after stepping into soft mud. The others came to help and also got stuck.

“I saw Tyler was up to his waist and I went to help and as soon as I got close I sank to my knees. It was really cold,” said a shivering Patricia Kitelinger.

Firefighters laid a 25-foot ladder and then a 14-foot ladder across the mud to reach the children. Firefighter Leo Renk, wearing a diver’s dry suit, reached the children and pulled them out.

Renk said the mud was so this he could barely pull the children free. At one point he slipped into the muck himself and almost couldn’t get out.

“There was no bottom. I don’t know what kept me from going on down,” he said.

The pond was drained Monday to let Pacific Power workers locate and repair two leaks in rotting timbers in the spillway mechanism at the bottom of the 80-year-old dam.

Repairs were completed this morning and the pond will be refilled starting Thursday morning.

Source: The Bulletin ©1993

Mirror Pond to be drained for Dam work

Mirror Pond will be drained to one of its lowest levels in history next week while crews repair the historic—and leaky—dam that backs up the Deschutes River and forms one of Bend’s best known landmarks.

Pacific Power, the owner of the 80-year-old dam to the north of the Newport Avenue bridge, has asked the Deschutes County watermaster to greatly reduce the flow of the Deschutes into Mirror Pond.

That will enable crews to install a fabric liner along the face of the aging wood crib dam, said Rich Barney, a Pacific Power spokesman in Portland. The liner should cut down on the leakage through the rock and wood structure, the first dam ever built on the Deschutes.

Barney emphasized that the maintenance is routine and that the structural integrity of the dam is not at risk.

Beginning Sunday, the Central Oregon Irrigation District and the Arnold Irrigation District will divert water from the Deschutes upstream from Mirror Pond. Members of those irrigation districts should take advantage of this opportunity to fill stock ponds and cisterns.

“We’re going to try to take as much water out of the river above the pond as we can,” Barney said. “We’ve taken it down before to work on the dam, but this time we’re trying to get roughly a foot lower than we ever have in the past.”

Barney said the dam repair work will begin Monday and take about three days to complete. Severe cold weather could prevent the work from taking place, he said.

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

The structure, built by the now defunct Bend Water, Light &Power Co.. took several years to construct. Cement for the project was hauled by horse-drawn wagons from Shaniko, about 100 miles away. The dam itself—15 to 20 feet thick at the base—was made from wood cribs filled with lava rock.

When the switches were first thrown at the powerhouse during a ceremony in 1910, a total of 375 electric light bulbs sprang to life across Bend.

Once the power was flowing through the lines, maintenance was led to one man who worked with a wheelbarrow full of tools.

Pacific Power bought the dam in 1930. The powerhouse now serves as the company’s dispatch center in Bend.

Source: The Bulletin ©1990

Drought turns Mirror Pond into mud flat pond

Mirror Pond in Bend is at low tide.

Well, that’s not literally true, but man-made dams that control water levels in the Deschutes River as the earth and moon control ocean tides have made the Mirror Pond look like a coastal mud flat.

Deschutes County Water Master Bob Main said the river flow is so low that the Pacific Power & Light Company dam, which has several leaks, is letting more water spill through it than it’s holding back.

On top of that, Main said, local irrigation districts are siphoning off water to allow users to fill stock ponds. This has further reduced the water in the river.

Main said enough water usually is flowing down the river for the PP&L dam to make it back up.

But that’s not happening this year, Main said. Because of the summer and fall drought, Wickiup, Crane Prairie and other reservoirs have very low water levels. So the water master’s office is releasing as little water out of them into the river as possible.

The two irrigation districts are taking 260 cfs from the river. When they finish their draining later this week, Main said, Mirror Pond should begin refilling. He expects water levels to be back by Saturday.

Source: The Bulletin ©1987

Mirror Pond drainage project gets under way

By early this evening, Bend’s Mirror Pond may be well on its way to Redmond and points beyond as Pacific Power and Light this morning began releasing the water behind its dam.

Harold Baughman of PP&L said the water level of the pond will be lowered slowly in an effort to limit the amount of silt sent down the river.

The pond is being drained to allow the City of Bend to take several truckloads of silt out of the pond for testing. The silt tests will tell the city if the muck in Mirror Pond has commercial value. Sale of the silt for soil could help offset the cost of dredging the pond.

Silt covers the bottom of the pond to a depth of 10 feet in places.

Draining the pond also will give· PP&L a chance to do maintenance work on the dam and to install flood gates.

Water quality in the Deschutes River below the dam is being monitored by the Department of Environmental Quality to make sure the water from the pond does not result in excessive levels of turbidity, or muddiness.

Besides causing problems for fish in the river, muddy water from tho pond could contaminate Redmond’s water supply. The City of Redmond draws some of its drinking water from the river.

The draining project, originally set for Nov. 20, was delayed by cold weather. PP&L had to wait until Central Oregon Irrigation District could turn water into its ditches. By diverting water into the irrigation system south of Bend, less water will pass through Mirror Pond, reducing the amount of mud stirred when the water level is lowered.

Bend City Police have warned residents, especially children, to stay away from the drained pond. The silt covering the pond bed is dangerous and could trap someone venturing out into it .

The draining could take as long as two days, but Baughman said he hopes the water will be lowered by Wednesday morning.

The pond will be filled again by mid-December.


Source: The Bulletin ©1978

Mirror Pond now a mud flat as PP&L lowers water level

The Mirror Pond basin, through which the Deschutes River raced as a trout-filled stream when Bend was a hamlet early in the century, was an ugly mud flat today.

Drainage of the big, lawn fringed basin was started last night, and by daylight this morning the river was meandering around mud banks as waterfowl fed in the main stream.

City officials were greatly pleased with the night selected by Pacific Power & Light Co. officials to drain the pond, to permit repairs to the impounding structures and to carry out other work: The mercury dipped to 16 degrees last night.

The sudden plunge of the temperature wilted aquatic weeds in the basin, apparently making unnecessary plans of the city to engage in an extensive weed-eradication project. This morning, weeds on mud flats were wilted over many acres.

However, the city will carry out other work while the pond level is down to stream channel. Part of this will include repair of rock walls in areas where cement did not hold. It is expected that there will also be an attempt to clean some unsightly debris from the basin.

Youngsters, en route to school, were on the job early this morning to make their survey of the muddy area, and found hundreds of crawdads dead in waterless areas, some of them on top of thin crusts of ice.

Work planned by PP&L includes the construction of a scenic water spout in the power pond area. It will be lighted. Also, a scenic wooden fence will be constructed on top of the spillway.

Level of the Mirror Pond will remain low for two weeks.

Source: The Bulletin ©1968

On page 8 in Sports: Kiki Cutter, Julie Meissner get thirds in respective ski races

Mirror Pond lowering begins

Lowering of the Mirror Pond in Bend started this morning but the level may not be kept down as long as originally planned, because of the moderating weather.

It was originally planned to keep the Mirror Pond drained until the first of next week, to permit cold weather to kill aquatic weeds.

But regardless of the weather, the plan to construct a boat ramp on the Drake Park side a short distance below the Tumalo Avenue Bridge will continue as planned, City Manager Hal Puddy said.

The ramp will be for emergency us, to launch boats that might be needed in rescue work.

Source: Bend Bulletin ©1966