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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The corporation that owns Newport Avenue Dam does not expect to begin its inspection of a recently discovered leak for at least another week, a PacifiCorp spokesman said Thursday.
Spokesman Bob Gravely said the company is still working its way through regulatory matters and developing a plan for safely lowering water levels to allow inspectors access to the dam. Mirror Pond, the body of water at the heart of Bend, should remain at or near its current level — about two feet below normal, until the hole is fixed.
“I think this leak is such that with the flows as they are — and as is kind of typical for this time of year — we don’t think we can raise the water level without doing something about the leak,” Gravely said. “It is a bit like the drain in the bathtub effect; if the drain is open, you can only get so much water in the bathtub.”
PacifiCorp, a multi-state utility that operates in Oregon as Pacific Power, has patched smaller holes in the dam three times in the last five years. Past repairs were made by bolting a large piece of metal over the hole; a technique called sheet pile, Gravely said. Sheet pile is effective, he said, and a sheet pile fix would allow PacifiCorp to resume hydroelectric generation. But with the dam now more than 100 years old, continued age-related deterioration is likely, he said.
“It sounds easy enough to go fix this, but we could be right back here in eight months or a year and a half from now,” he said. “It’s the roof analogy: How long do you keep patching leaks in the roof before you take a look at (replacing) the roof.”
Gravely declined to estimate the cost of repairing the latest hole, how long it would take PacifiCorp to make the decision or complete the repairs.
Along with extensive mudflats along the river channel, the lower water has exposed the poor condition of the rock walls marking the typical high water line. Jim Figurski with the Bend Park & Recreation District said the crumbling walls present a potential safety hazard.
“We’re evaluating the conditions there and looking at it. And if there’s a decision it’s really unsafe, it’ll probably get taped off,” he said. “But, we haven’t made that determination yet. “
Figurski, who has been heading up the park district portion of the larger community conversation about silt accumulation in Mirror Pond, said nearly every proposal under consideration calls for removing most of the rock wall along the edge of Drake Park in order to create a more natural riverbank. The walls are not well built, he said. And in some locations have allowed water to seep in beneath nearby footpaths. Earlier this year, the park district tore up paver bricks along a long section of the path that had become buckled due to water seepage, Figurski said.
Although PacifiCorp’s long-term plans for the dam are still unknown, the park district has been exploring the possibility of a water rights transfer that could allow the dam to remain, even if the utility abandons power generation at the site. Figurski said although PacifiCorp’s water rights require the dam be used to produce electricity, the park district has asked state agencies about a modification that would allow the dam to remain solely for the purpose of maintaining Mirror Pond.
When the dam broke and drained Mirror Pond, we all looked at the dry riverbed. The pond drained and the solution appeared. Dry dredge Mirror Pond. Drain it, dredge it dry and then fix the dam. Dry dredge is cheap, easy and fast. We were thinking we could only wet dredge, which is expensive and takes lots of time. I say this winter, we drain Mirror Pond, do the dry dredge and then fill it back up in the summer.