City's Water Project is a Drain | Guest Commentary | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Opinion » Guest Commentary

City's Water Project is a Drain

The City's water project is starting to drain the budget and a petition has been made against it.

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Government spending is under the microscope wherever you look. Here in Bend, City staff have succeeded in getting the City Manager and the City Council out on a plank on a "trophy" water infrastructure project misnamed the Surface Water "Improvement" Project (SWP). This project is an unnecessary and costly burden that ratepayers cannot afford, and one that will lock the City into taking water away from Tumalo Creek for the next century. To stop this waste, a diverse group of concerned citizens is starting a petition drive to the City Council.

The City's overhaul of its surface water supply system involves installing a new steel pipe for 10 miles along the Skyline Road corridor to the Outback site west of town. There the water will pass through a new hydropower turbine and into a new high tech membrane filtration plant and finally into the city delivery system.


Councilors (excepting Jim Clinton who has voted no at every opportunity) and staff are enamored of keeping a "dual source" water supply. Depending on when and how it is counted from half to three-quarters of Bend's water comes from groundwater (wells). Unfortunately, rebuilding the surface water system that supplies the remaining water comes at a very high cost. The latest City estimates are that this will cost nearly $70 million. This figures excludes $50-plus million in interest and financing charges.

With the SWP, the city will have bond payments, principal payments and operational expenditures of around $5.5 million per year for the foreseeable future. Assume hydropower revenues of $0.5 million per year and the annual outlay is $5 million. If the City went to all groundwater, it would have to pump more water. There is no free lunch here. But, fortunately the additional pumping costs are low - initially just over half a million dollars per year - and could be minimized as pumps are upgraded and the delivery system optimized for groundwater.

A key advantage of using wells is that they are a proven technology, cheap to install, and need only be built as and when needed.

At some point down the road, growth may lead to an increase in water use. More wells would then be needed under a groundwater only system. But they would be needed even if the City built the SWP. The City needs to have a standby source ready in case the surface water system fails and the City's standby source is groundwater. In any event Bend water consumption is falling not rising at present (along with its population); dropping 14% in the last two years. As a result the City currently has plenty of spare well capacity. In sum, the need for new capacity is a ways off, and the City can move to an all groundwater system without delay.

Moving to all groundwater avoids the need to issue a bond and raise water rates further. In preparation for the surface water improvement project City water rates, have already gone up significantly (i.e. by 80 percent) over the past decade and are projected to rise an additional 42 percent over the next five years.

City staff has also totally ignored the environmental benefits of reducing their water diversions. The City diverts over 2 billion gallons of flow a year from Bridge Creek and Tumalo Creek (above Tumalo Falls). Leaving this water in the creek and protecting it instream under the Oregon Instream Water Rights Act would restore flows over the Falls, triple depleted summer flows near Shevlin Park, and put much needed cold water into the Deschutes River. Such an effort would not only make the City a Conservation Hero, but help fuel the tourism and recreation industry that feeds the City's own coffers and provides needed jobs in Bend and Central Oregon.

So, we ask you to join us in asking Council to reverse course. In September, staff plan on asking Council to approve the purchase of steel for the pipe and turbine. Costs are low say staff so they want to buy now and build the pipe and turbines later. But this just puts ratepayer funds at risk. The City does not yet have its permits for the SWP in hand - Forest Service environmental permits, County land use permits and water rights remain to be acquired.

We feel that this overhaul of the City's water system makes no sense and is a large waste of ratepayer funds. Our (and others) efforts to persuade staff and Council of the deficiencies of this project over the last eight months have been ignored. We therefore ask that you: Bend ratepayers, Central Oregon residents, and those who enjoy the Tumalo watershed join us by signing the Bend Water Petition. The petition can be found at www.bendwater.info along with a detailed accounting of the project and its awkward history.

Bruce Aylward, Ph.D.

Bill Buchanan, Esq.

Paul Dewey, Esq.

Peter Schneider, MBA

Matt Shinderman, Ph.D.

Bill Smith, MBA

Mike Tripp, M.D.

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