Information was needed before public input on Mirror Pond

A number of recent articles in the local news media illustrate citizen concerns about the Mirror Pond sedimentation problem. Issues include lack of progress toward a solution, conflicting community values and lack of community involvement in the decision-making process. These concerns are valid, but the Mirror Pond Steering Committee would like to offer some clarification.

To begin, the river bottom at Mirror Pond is owned by different private individuals, Bend Park & Recreation District and Pacific Power. This information was not utilized in previous sediment management efforts, but ownership information is absolutely critical for determining key stakeholders and jurisdictional authority. Determining parcel ownership has required a significant investment of the committee’s resources.

Fragmented ownership and lack of clear jurisdictional authority for Mirror Pond complicate funding. The city of Bend does not have an ownership stake in the pond, nor is it responsible for the dams that regulate flows and sediment transport in the river. Similarly, while BPRD owns parcels that extend into the river, it does not operate dams. Both parties have committed funds and time to support the process, but those funds are not sufficient to “fix” Mirror Pond.

A recent letter to the editor suggested that Mirror Pond required a collaborative approach, something the MPSC has pursued from the beginning. Several committee members met with the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency responsible for management of Wickiup Dam, in an attempt to secure its participation. The BOR claims that Mirror Pond is outside its jurisdiction, citing a lack of scientific evidence linking management of the dam with increased sedimentation in the river. Without a federal legislative directive, BOR will not participate in the process.

The Pacific Power dam at the Newport Avenue Bridge is a barrier to downstream movement of sediment. Sediment transport is a normal function of rivers, and where there are dams, sedimentation will occur upstream. Advocates for a free-flowing river recommend dam removal and restoring the river to its natural course. I’m personally sympathetic to this idea, but reality in this situation is a bit more complicated.

Removing the Pacific Power dam eliminates Mirror Pond, but there is strong opposition to this idea. Additionally, dam removal shifts the sediment problem downstream to North Unit Dam, part of the federal Deschutes Project. Achieving an ecologically relevant, free-flowing river would entail removal of this dam as well, which would require federal legislation and addressing North Unit Irrigation District water rights. These options are theoretically possible but they greatly expand the complexity and expense of addressing the sedimentation issue.

There is some concern in the community that the MPSC has committed to a flawed process. To be clear, the MPSC has not made binding decisions — financial or otherwise — that restrict our approach to Mirror Pond. How the committee proceeds will largely be determined by the results of upcoming conversations with permitting agencies, specifically the Department of State Lands and Army Corps of Engineers, and by interactions with the community.

The committee has not pursued community engagement up to this point because there were substantial information gaps pertaining to permitting requirements, parcel ownership and costs for conducting appropriate studies to support the decision process. We now have that information.

The MPSC is committed to working with the community to determine the desired future condition for Mirror Pond, studying the alternative options for achieving that vision and developing funding mechanisms that will ensure long-term success. At this time the committee is shifting emphasis to community involvement, beginning with several questions pertaining to Mirror Pond on the upcoming BPRD survey. The MPSC will use information from the survey to develop a more comprehensive community outreach process that will inform the decision approach. We look forward to working with the community in the coming months.

Matt Shinderman, on behalf of the Mirror Pond Steering Committee and Bend 2030.

Source: The Bulletin


State to share Bend fish ladder cost

Customers of three local irrigation districts will get a $600,000 break thanks to a state decision to share the tab for helping fish get past North Canal Dam on Bend’s north side.

The state on Monday approved a deal with Central Oregon Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District and Swalley Irrigation District in which the state would pick up as much as $600,000 of the cost for a fish ladder or other passage over the Deschutes River dam, a project estimated to run $1 million.

The agreement, which still has to be approved by the board of COID, amounts to a retreat by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from an earlier demand that the districts pay the full price of the project.

The estimated savings would benefit the districts’ more than 5,300 customers by an average of $112 each.

Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, said the state’s new stance has prompted her to withdraw a bill in the Legislature that would have eliminated the fish passage requirement altogether.

“We accomplished everything we needed to,” Telfer said.

Steve Johnson, manager of COID, called the deal a good compromise that will benefit the districts, the state and the fish.

“While we didn’t start out at the same page at the beginning, I think we ended up at what I would consider a triple win situation,” he said of the negotiations with the state.

Last summer, ODFW informed district officials that two hydroelectric power projects being installed by Swalley and COID triggered a state requirement that fish passage must be added whenever existing river obstructions such as dams are renovated or replaced.

The districts were shocked. For one thing, the new hydroelectric projects were nowhere near the dam and would not hurt fish. The Swalley hydro plant is five miles away on the district’s canal, and COID’s project is about two miles away.

The state’s new requirement also threatened Swalley’s need to generate power by April 1 in order to make debt service payments and honor related agreements. COID, whose plant is scheduled to start up by Sept. 1, faced a similar situation.

District officials said the law was being misapplied and got support from Telfer and the Oregon Water Resources Congress, which represents districts.

In the end, the state approved the district’s offer of $400,000 toward the fish passage, to be paid by April 2015.

Rick Kepler, ODFW’s water program manager, agreed that the arrangement is a good compromise and said he hopes the state can get funding together, potentially with the help of grant money, to put in fish passage within the next few years.

If fish passage is added to North Canal Dam as well as to the Newport Dam at Mirror Pond, it would create a 90-mile stretch of unblocked fish habitat that would help native migratory fish populations, including redband trout and bull trout, according to Kepler

The districts could still be on the hook for a larger chunk of the costs if they install a hydroelectric plant at the dam itself, which could happen in the next few years. Any such plant would allow the state to demand a new contribution toward the project.

However, at that point the districts could well have a private investor who’d help pick up some of the costs.

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

Telfer backs irrigation districts on fish passage

SALEM — State Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, wants the state to drop a requirement that local irrigation districts help fish get across North Canal Dam, on Bend’s north side.

Since early this summer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been in negotiations with the Central Oregon Irrigation District, Swalley Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District about building a fish ladder or other means of passage over the dam, which divides the middle and upper portions of the Deschutes River. The districts say the project will cost about $1 million.

The department says that two hydroelectric power projects being installed by Swalley and COID have triggered a state requirement that whenever existing river obstructions are renovated or replaced, fish passage should be added. The districts, which divert water from the dam for irrigation, say the law is being misapplied. They say they are willing to help pay for only about $400,000 toward a future fish passage project, and not until 2015.

If the department doesn’t compromise, they hope Telfer can get a bill passed in a special session planned for February.

Suzanne Butterfield, general manager of Swalley Irrigation District, said paying the entire estimated $1 million price tag would make the district’s investment in hydroelectric power not “pencil out.”

“It would be different if we were asking for more water at the dam,” she said. “We’re not affecting one iota of what happens up at the dam … We just feel that it’s very unfair to be saddled with this.”

Telfer, who is preparing a bill that would eliminate the fish passage requirement for in-canal hydro projects, agreed: “They’re not changing the stream flows … they’re not changing anything, just putting hydro on their irrigation canal.

Projects in the works

Swalley is building a small project about 5 miles from the diversion point. The project, in conjunction with a plan to pipe 5.1 miles of the canal for efficiency purposes, will help return water to the middle Deschutes.

COID is working on a similar project about 2 miles from the dam, one scheduled to start generating power by Sept. 1.

Butterfield, who is part of ongoing negotiations with the department, says the district needs the state to sign off on an agreement by April 1, when Swalley wants to start selling electricity from its project. Otherwise, an inability to start up on time will jeopardize the district’s ability to make debt service payments and honor other agreements that are contingent on the project operating.

“We’re all a little bewildered,” said Anita Winkler of the Oregon Water Resources Congress, a group that represents irrigation districts. She added that the two projects “are doing good stuff for the fish because they won’t take as much water from the river.”

Officials, activists weigh in

State officials don’t dispute that the hydro projects won’t hurt fish. That’s because screens at the districts’ division point prevent fish from getting in the canals.

But they say the projects still trigger the fish passage requirement. They say the law requiring fish passage is part of a long-term plan to restore fish passage around the state.

Rick Kepler, the department’s water program manager, said that in-canal hydro projects such as the districts’ are “a good thing.” But he said obstructions like the North Canal Dam as well as the Newport Dam at Mirror Pond “have been blocking passage for a long time; we’d kind of like to get that resolved as well.”

Kepler said that if fish passage is added to those two dams, just 1.3 miles apart, it will create a 90-mile stretch of unblocked fish habitat, helping native migratory fish populations, including redband trout, bull trout, suckers and more.

Two environmental activists, when asked about the state’s focus on North Canal Dam, said that other fish passage projects would be more beneficial from an environmental perspective. But Ryan Houston of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Jim Seitz, who represents Trout Unlimited and Central Oregon Flyfishers, say they welcome any fish passage im- provements.

What’s next?

Butterfield said that irrigation districts are willing to do their part. In fact, they have been willing to pay for fish passage when the dam needs a major renovation.

That could happen quite soon, as the districts are among several groups vying for permission to build a hydropower plant at North Canal Dam itself. Any such plant would trigger the state’s fish passage requirement.

Telfer has submitted legislation to help the districts to the Legislative Counsel Office that provides legal services to the Legislature. Once the bill has been vetted legally, she hopes to introduce it in February.

Source: The Bulletin ©2009

The dams that define Bend

Long before logging trucks existed, horses dragged fresh-cut trees to the train tracks that wound through the woods surrounding Bend. Train cars dumped logs into the Deschutes River, where they floated in the pool behind a dam.

Almost 90 years later, that dam, near what is now the Colorado Avenue bridge, still holds back the Deschutes, but the logs are long gone.

The idea of building that log pond dam took seed as early as 1907, and it was built in 1915.

“The community said that pond could draw mills and make the town boom,” said John Frye, a volunteer for the Deschutes County Historical Society.

They were right.

The mills, which ran 24 hours a day, employed 1,500 people in 1916, when only 5,193 people lived in Bend. They stacked acres of lumber to dry in the area where the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services building is now located.

The log pond dam is just one of four dams on the Deschutes River within the city that significantly shaped the region’s economy and spurred the city’s growth. And it’s the only one that is not still used for its original purpose.

The other dams brought electricity to the city and facilitated irrigation that allowed agriculture to develop on the High Desert.

They are:

-The Pacific Power dam at Newport Avenue, built in 1910 for generating electricity.

-The Tumalo Irrigation District diversion dam at Pioneer Park, built in 1922 to divert water to the Bend feed canal.

-The North Canal dam near Division and Third Street, built in 1912 for irrigation canals that stretched all the way north to Madras.

Newspaper articles testify to the community’s pride when the dam at Newport Avenue was built to generate power.

“The community was really bragging about how great that was,” Frye said.

Electricity changed the nature of the community located in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, the power heated and lighted up homes. Women started using electric irons, Frye said.

The power plant still generates about one megawatt of electricity — enough to power more than 500 homes — and its power is dispersed into the general power grid, some of which feeds Bend.

During the homestead era, circa 1910, farmers were building irrigation ditches in the desert, Frye said. Irrigation diversion dams built on the north end of the city’s stretch of river in 1912 and 1922 allowed agriculture to develop all the way north to Madras.

Now, those irrigation canals have become central to a regional discussion about water use because their diversions dramatically drop the level of the Middle Deschutes River — just downstream, to the north of the diversion dams.

And Pacific Power’s dam at Newport Avenue created one of Bend’s signature water features — Mirror Pond — bordered by Drake Park and a row of high-profile homes.

Because the dam slows the water flow right there, silt has stacked up in the pond, making it shallow and muddy.

“When the river slows down and hits the still water behind the dam, it doesn’t carry the sediment load,” said Roger Prowell, water quality supervisor with Bend’s Public Works Department. “Dams build up silt deposits.”

The silt was once dredged in the mid-1980s. A 16-inch pipeline passed through people’s yards and deposited the dirt in a hole below what is now the Deschutes Brewery’s plant along the river upstream. “That was when machines in the river did’t cause a crisis. Now it’d be hard,” Prowell said. “If you go in a river with a machine, people will argue that you’re killing the fish.”

There are companies that basically dehydrate the silt and remove the dry dirt from the site, which would have less impact on the fish and the neighbors. Prowell guesses that would cost more than a million dollars.

Whether to dredge again is a decision the community will have to make, and water experts say the topic has been discussed. But, it’s not a burning issue, Prowell said.

If the silt is allowed to accumulate, at some point vegetation would eventually start to grow and a riparian zone would be reborn along the edges of the pond.

The river would flow through a narrow channel and the water flow would speed up.

Bend officials have no control over the dams or whether the sediment is removed.

“People perceive the city in control of those dams,” Prowell said. “We don’t have anything to do with it. The river just flows through our community, through the control of other people.”

For example, irrigation districts own and control the irrigation diversion dams, and Pacific Power still runs the power-generation dam.

And Bill Smith, developer of the Old Mill District mixed-use and retail center at the former mill site, owns and controls the former log dam at Colorado Avenue.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) regulates fish habitat, and the Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) oversees water quality, but Smith more or less has control of the floodgates.

“I can pretty much do whatever I want,” he said.

But he does have to provide a water reserve for a fire flow to Willamette Industries. Smith said he keeps the water about 36 feet deep just upstream of the dam.

If he lowered that, letting more water flow through the gates, it would effectively create more developable land in the Old Mill District, potentially raising his lands’ value.

If he wanted to do that, he could build a pipe-to-pond system for a fire protection reservoir in the industrial area — but that would be expensive, he said.

Smith said he plans to keep the water level in the river to maintain wetlands — something the community has come to expect.

For the most part, Smith’s dam doesn’t affect the river’s flow much, said Kyle Gorman, regional manager for the south central region of the Oregon Water Resources Department. He said no formal guidelines govern that section of the river, but his department oversees safety issues there.

Removing the dams would be up to the dam owners, said Steve Marx, fish biologist for ODFW in Bend. He hasn’t heard any talk of it lately, though.

Talk of removing the Mirror Pond dam came up about 10 years ago when the power company was going through relicensing proceedings, Marx said. Only hydro-power dams need licenses.

“It’s a big social issue — how that would change Mirror Pond,” he said. “It would become a river environment instead of a pond environment.”

Whether that’s good or bad depends on whom you talk to, Marx said.

A more natural stream channel would be a positive thing for fish habitat. But people enjoy the aesthetics of the pond, too.

However, removing the dam could wash too much sediment downstream, and that could be bad for the river’s ecology, he said.

Silt would fill the spaces between rocks and within gravel where insects — fish food — live. It would affect spawning and cover for fish.

Right now, the biggest ongoing discussion at ODFW related to the dams is the ability of fish to pass them.

Fish can’t pass the north canal dam or the Pacific Power dam. The Tumalo Irrigation District diversion dam at Pioneer Park and Smith’s dam have fish ladders for the redband and rainbow trout.

Building fish ladders can be expensive and the responsibility falls to the dam owners.

“It’s a long-term goal to restore passage at those dams and restore (fish) populations at those dams,” Marx said. “We have isolated fish populations in each of those … fragmented sections.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2002

Great dam and canal being built near Bend

With the construction of the greatest irrigation diversion dam in Oregon, the Central Oregon Irrigation Company is preparing to water some 18,000 more acres of land. The cost of the North Canal dam and the 7,460 feet of concrete lined canal leading from the dam to the old Pilot Butte will be $150,000. Some $200,000 more will probably, within the next few years, be spent on the extension of the system by the building of laterals.

Backwater from the dam will reach as far up the river as the present power house of the Bend Water, Light & Power Co.