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.
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.
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.
A2 Dam Removal: When the dam is removed existing water levels drop and flow back into the original channel. (Illustrated 5 years after dam removal)
General Description: In this alternative the Mirror Pond dam is removed by its owner at no expense to taxpayers. Side slopes down to the river are graded and replanted as required by federal and state regulators.
Soils would be exposed until new wetland plantings develop.
The dam removal process requires mitigation for any exposed soils.
$10.9 million cost for removing the dam is the responsibility of the dam owner.
The Newport Avenue Dam could be one significant repair bill away from being shut down for good, according to a spokesman for the utility that operates the dam.
Now 100 years old, the dam brought Central Oregon its first electricity, creating Mirror Pond along the way. The dam’s future has been placed in the spotlight through a Bend Park & Recreation District-led process to determine what should be done about the silt that has been slowly filling Mirror Pond since it was last dredged in 1984.
PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the dam can be compared to an older car a family might keep around as backup transportation.
“It is the second car — as long as you’re not rebuilding the engine, it’s worth your while to keep driving, but when the mechanic gives you a $3,000 bill for your car, it’s time to reconsider,” he said. “That’s how we view the situation right now.”
Gravely said he couldn’t say how much money PacifiCorp would be willing to put in to keeping the dam running if repairs became necessary.
For now, he said the company is following the local discussion of options for Mirror Pond while trying not to exert undue influence on the process.
“In general, I would say that right now it remains economical to operate for customers,” Gravley said. “But, it is 100 years old, and we’re continuing to make sure it’s safe and all of that. … It would be hard to see any kind of major capital investment being made that would allow it to continue being economical.”
With a generation capacity of 1.1 megawatts, the Newport Avenue Dam is the smallest of the six hydroelectric power plants operated by PacifiCorp, providing just more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total power potential of the company’s hydro system.
Because hydroelectric plants do not typically generate power all day, every day, capacity figures overstate their actual production. Power output is measured in megawatt hours (MWh), a calculation of the actual electricity generated reached by multiplying the capacity with the number of hours the turbines are turning. With consistent water supplies, a 1.1 MW facility like the Newport Avenue Dam running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year would produce 9,636 MWh of electricity.
Generation figures shared by the company indicate the Newport Avenue Dam produced 3,344 MWh in 2012 and 2,115 MWh in 2011, down from the long-term historical average of 4,106 MWh. Using the U.S. Department of Energy standard that places the average household’s annual electricity consumption at 11,280 kilowatts, the dam’s total output supplied power for 296 homes last year, and 188 the year before.
According to the Oregon Public Utility Commission, the average PacifiCorp residential customer pays 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour. At that rate, the Newport Avenue Dam would have generated an income of $228,420 for PacifiCorp in 2012, not counting any costs associated with transmission, administration or maintenance.
Steve Johnson, the manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said those kinds of dollar figures suggest it wouldn’t take much for PacifiCorp to give up on the Newport Avenue Dam as a power source.
The irrigation district operates two hydroelectric generators of its own, one on a canal intake near Mt. Bachelor Village and one on its canal between Bend and Redmond that together generate roughly 10 times the power of the Newport Avenue Dam.
“It’s only real value now is, it creates Mirror Pond,” Johnson said. “I think PacifiCorp is just gonna follow along with what the community does, but if the community wants that dam removed, the community is gonna pay for it. PacifiCorp ain’t gonna pay for that.”
If PacifiCorp were to give up on generating power at the Newport Avenue Dam, it’s likely the dam would have to come down as well. The state permit under which the dam is operated gives PacifiCorp the right to impound the river for power generation — and, interestingly, debris removal and ice production — but not recreational purposes like creating a pond.
Jim Figurski, a consultant working with the park district to draw up plans for how to address the silt issue at Mirror Pond, said the Oregon Water Resources Department has assured him it wouldn’t rush dam removal were PacifiCorp to give up on power generation, but could be forced to act if a private citizen or group were to raise the issue.
Mary Grainey from the Oregon Water Resources Department’s hydroelectric division said PacifiCorp would have the option of selling or transferring its water rights — again, only for hydroelectric generation, debris removal or ice production — or the rights would revert back to the state.
Grainey said PacifiCorp would have up to five years to transfer its water rights to another user or the state. Alternatively, the company or another party that received the water rights through a transfer could appeal to the Water Resources Commission to create a recreational or aesthetic water right, Grainey said, adding such rights are typically only granted for smaller waterways on private property.
Figurski said he doesn’t think a push to create a recreational water right is likely to succeed.
“I think the recreational components in most places were secondary to flood control, irrigation, power generation,” Figurski said. “To create a new water right, you would be starting from scratch and would be subject to all the new regulations.”
If hydroelectric generation were to come to an end and the dam were somehow allowed to remain in place with a new water right, it’s likely state regulators would require the dam’s owner to address fish passage. Johnson estimated screens to keep fish from being sucked through the dam and a fish ladder for upstream travel could run $1 million to $2 million at the Newport Avenue Dam.
Were PacifiCorp to continue generating power but wish to make significant modifications to the dam, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could require it be re-licensed — PacifiCorp was allowed to opt out of FERC licensing in 1996 — triggering the need to install fish passage and meet other modern regulatory requirements.
Gravely said that although he can’t be certain what would happen were FERC to require the dam be re-licensed, the costs associated with a pending license renewal have led to the removal of many older dams across the Northwest. Still, he said it’s hard to guess when PacifiCorp might decide operating the dam is more trouble than its worth.
“It’s 100 years old. We believe it’s much closer to the end of its viability than the beginning,” he said.
‘There will be a reaction’
Figurski said he can understand why PacifiCorp is trying to avoid dominating the discussion over Mirror Pond, even if what becomes of the dam could alter Mirror Pond as much or more than any of the dredging or channel-building now under consideration.
“I think they’re being pretty conservative,” he said. “Because they could obviously be driving this process, and say ‘We’re going to take the dam out; you guys do whatever.’”
On April 30, members of the Mirror Pond Management Board will see preliminary illustrations of various options for addressing the silt buildup in the pond. Figurski said the board will see a no-dam scenario, a scenario that preserves the traditional look of Mirror Pond, and a number of middle options that ideally could be implemented with or without the Newport Avenue Dam.
Figurski said one of the clearest messages he took from a questionnaire on Mirror Pond earlier this year was the public’s desire to find an approach that will enhance the area upstream of the dam, regardless of how long the dam remains — and ideally, won’t be completely undone if the dam is removed.
“I don’t think the idea is you wouldn’t have to do anything if the dam comes out, but how do you not lose everything you’ve done,” he said. “If and when the dam goes away, there will be a reaction. Let’s minimize what we have to do at that point.”
The Newport Avenue dam is at the end of its life cycle. Everyone knows it—even PacifiCorp, the utility company that owns the 102-year-old dam, which creates the pond at Drake Park near downtown Bend.
What many don’t know, however, is that the dam cannot remain if it ceases to function as a hydroelectric facility. Those are the rules: According to water-right certificate No. 29581, Pacific Power & Light Co. (now PacifiCorp, which owns Pacific Power) has the right only to use the water for power generation and ice and debris removal. There’s no built-in right for storing water.
So, the idea that PacifiCorp can simply retire the crumbling dam from service as a power-generating tool, but leave the structure in place to retain a pond, is a thought that should no longer be considered.
“By no means could it stay there just to keep Mirror Pond,” said Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin, who also put to rest talk of transferring those water rights for recreational purposes. All of the water rights on the Upper Deschutes River, said Giffin, have already been allocated.
PacifiCorp officials hope, however, the case isn’t as cut and dried as it seems. Company spokesman Bob Gravely said, although, “it’s not really an issue we’ve looked at closely,” he’s optimistic a solution could be found that would allow the dam to remain in place.
But the water-right news puts PacifiCorp in a tight spot. Company representatives have admitted that, from a hydroelectric standpoint, the dam provides negligible electricity. According to company stats, the dam only generates enough power for 300 to 400 homes. Angela Price, PafiCorp rep and Mirror Pond Steering Committee member, recently called the structure “a small asset.”
Moreover, altering the Newport Avenue dam is also an unlikely course. Adding fish ladders and other such necessary updates or repairs would be expensive and would trigger action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC licensing would be a costly route that could take years to navigate—an unappealing scenario for PacifiCorp.
Jim Figurski, the project manager who’s been hired by the city and Bend Park & Recreation District to find a fix for a pond that is clogging with silt, has already thought about all this.
“My understanding is that the water right is solely associated with the generation of power,” said Figurski, echoing Watermaster Jeremy Giffin’s words. Figurski added that, while he can’t speak for the city, he thought a handoff or sale of the dam from PacifiCorp to the city highly unlikely.
To account for this, Figurski, who also sits on the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, the decision-making body overseeing the project, said at least three of the four possible solutions being drafted by his consultant team will include a Deschutes River with no dam in place at Newport Avenue. Figurski expects to have four designs, ones created by Portland’s Greenworks, a landscape architecture and environmental design firm, ready for public viewing and input by early June.
Fellow Steering Committee member Ryan Houston, Upper Deschutes Water Council executive director, is enthusiastic about Figurski’s approach but wants to make one thing clear: “Whether you want a pond or not is irrelevant—that dam is old,” Houston said. “The writing is on the wall.”
Going forward, Houston said he hopes the community can understand that the issues swirling about the silt-filled pond aren’t either/or.
“It’s either going to benefit recreationalists or homeowners; water quality versus not—when I hear someone playing these things off of each other as if they’re-black and-white solutions, I say ‘no,’ ” Houston said. “They’re false choices.”
Some would like to see the pond stay, no matter the cost, as they see it as an iconic Bend fixture. Other residents, who value the river’s health, would rather see the Deschutes return to a more natural state. River enthusiasts hope the solution allows for more recreating on the river. Others still ask that the area around Drake Park remain aesthetically pleasing.
The solution, Houston said, should be clever enough so that it pleases environmentalists, neighbors and recreationalists alike.
Figurski agrees, and said he’s trying to help his design team think outside of the box.
“The potential to retain pond-like characteristics,” Figurski said, is there, even without a dam.
But, at this point, one eventuality is clear—the dam’s days are numbered. SW
In 2011, the Bend Hydro project generated 2,115 MWh or 2,115,000 KWh of electricity; that is almost enough power for 178 homes.* If Pacific Power had to purchase these 2,115,000 KWhs, the replacement cost is estimated to be around $77,000.
*In 2011, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,280 kWh, an average of 940 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month. Oregon had an annual consumption of 11,892 kWh, an average of 991 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month.
Pacific Power owns the dam that creates a small but profitable return of energy for this facility. The dam is also the cause of the Mirror Pond build-up. The cost to remove the dam and restore its construction area would be significant to Pacific Power. Why not leave things as they are and Pacific Power pays the cost of dredging the river every 10 or 15 years as the silt builds up.
What happens when a dam disappears and a river returns? Watch this special edition of Oregon Field Guide about the historic removal of Condit Dam.
In 2012, the 100 foot-tall Condit Dam was removed from the White Salmon River in southeast Washington, making it the largest dam in the world ever removed. The goal was simple: Restore habitat for threatened salmon. This first-ever project tested the ingenuity of those tasked with the massive project. But it may also represent a turning point. In a region built on hydropower, is removing dams for threatened salmon the new norm?
Producer & Director of Photography – Andy Maser
Editor – Nick Fisher
Associate Producer – Hayden Peters
Additional Video – Michael Bendixen, Hayden Peters, Nick Fisher, Todd Sonflieth, Brian Lippy, Andy Johnson-Laird & Sylvain Chancel
Stock Material – Steve Stampfli, Zach Zoller, Ralph Bowman, Ryan Scott, Kevin Felts, Sam Drevo, Oregon Historical Society, Daniel Dancer, PacifiCorp,
Special Thanks – Jaco Klinkenberg, Wet Planet Whitewater, Heather Herbeck, Sam Drevo, Todd Olson of PacifiCorp, Tom Gaunt of PacifiCorp, Rod Engle of USFWS, Larry Moran of JR Merit, Tony Washines of Yakima Nation, Ed Jahn, American Rivers, American Whitewater
Roger L. Raeburn, Manager Dam Safety
P.O. Box 3040
Portland, OR 97208
Re: Bend Hydro (Mirror Pond) Dam (B-99)- Inspection Summary
This dam was inspected on July 12, 2012. I performed the inspection with District 11 Watermaster Jeremy Giffin. You were there, as were Tom Becker and Nathan Higa from Pacific Corp. and provided very helpful dam history and safety information. The Water Resources Department conducts these routine inspections to identify safety, maintenance or operational issues that may affect dam integrity. Dams are assigned a hazard rating based on downstream hazard to people and property, not on the condition of the dam. Bend Hydro (Mirror Pond) dam is classified as a significant hazard dam. Significant hazard dams are inspected every 2-3 years.
The results of this inspection are illustrated and described in the following photos and text. This inspection includes recommendations to keep the dam safe
Results of Inspection:
The spillway is often the most important safety feature of a dam. The spillway is needle type structure, with multiple bays to wood stop and end timbers, and a more recent concrete cap.
A walkway constructed on top of the cap that allowed detailed inspection of top of the spillway section. The walkway was sound.
The rest of the spillway received visual inspection only. Some of the timbers show signs of significant decay. The concrete sections that support the bays, and their foundations near original, and a more thorough inspection at very low water would be prudent.
A leak through the spillway section was discovered by Watermaster Jeremy Giffin a couple of years ago. The leak was controlled by installation of sheet pi ling as shown above. The leak is an indicator that this part of the dam is showing its age, and in need of a thorough inspection to evaluate the base and the condition of the large timbers, and the overall needle structure.
The Emergency gate for this dam was just replaced with a new motor and controls. It was operated during the inspection (for a small part of its cycle, as the gate is not in the same condition as its control). The gate and control functioned well for this limited operation.
The gate structure is also old, but appears to be operational, and was opened for limited flow as described above. When closed, there is moderate leakage, mostly through gaps between the old timbers.
The concrete buttress wall forms the middle section of the dam. It is mostly the original section, so is also 100 years old. There are areas of minor to moderate spall, and some fairly minor cracking. Overall, the section appears sound. The area below the dam is well maintained grass, with no wet areas, and was maintained for easy inspections.
The location above shows the maximum deterioration seen in the buttressed wall section. Seepage loss was low, around one gallon a minute. This is not a concern at this time.
The powerhouse wall is also one of the dam sections. This was inspected from the inside, and is in the best condition of any of the dam sections, with no leaks or significant cracks.
Access to and security at the dam was very good. It is, fenced with appropriate signage. This is a run of the river reservoir, and there are no signs of erosion around the dam site.
Continue with good maintenance and operations, including security, vegetation control, and security.
Evaluate Deschutes River flow, and accompany me on an inspection of the base of the spillway structure at very low water. I will coordinate with you and Watermaster Jeremy Giffin on the timing of such an inspection.
We use a standard inspection form for all dams, and a copy of the field inspection sheet for this dam is attached. The next regular inspection is planned for 2015. Thanks for sending me the drawings of the dam, and please let me know if you have any questions about this inspection.