I recently read with interest your article about the City of Bend's proposed Surface Water Improvement Project (SWIP.) On one level it is commendable that officials are acting to maintain clean water by avoidance of potential cryptosporidium (Crypto) contamination, as required under applicable EPA regulations. But other aspects of SWIP, combined with the City's sudden rush to approve the project, are very troubling.
For one, it appears the City has taken a project needed to address Crypto contamination and expanded it to encompass a comprehensive revamp of the entire water delivery system. In so doing, the City is exposing ratepayers to potentially skyrocketing water bills with little apparent benefit beyond the need to mitigate Crypto contamination. This alone would be enough to cause concern, but SWIP also presents a substantial environmental risk in the form of thermal pollution in the middle Deschutes watershed downstream of Bend.
SWIP's approach is to undertake a costly 10-mile piping of creek (or surface) water delivery without adequate consideration of alternatives, which include a less radical modification of the current mixed creek and well (or ground) water delivery system. Indeed, as the Source article reports, some experts have shown that expansion of the well water system dramatically reduces ratepayers' exposure to escalating water rates, and would maintain, or perhaps even increase, badly needed flows of cold water into the middle Deschutes, thus mitigating environmental problems in the watershed. This latter issue is critically important in an economic sense, given Bend's heavy reliance on tourism for a substantial part of its economic base. Why the City is dismissing out-of-hand the opinion of other experts in the field is a mystery that could come back to haunt both ratepayers and business interests.
In short, it appears the City is acting in haste, and has not given adequate consideration to the scope of the SWIP project in relation to prevailing economic conditions. Justifying SWIP on the expectation of another real estate boon and rapid population growth could leave ratepayers in an extreme state of sticker shock. Given these economic and environmental realities, the City should step back from its rush to judgment, revisit the SWIP proposal, and carefully consider costs and benefits associated with all other alternatives. The City can hardly afford to make a costly mistake on an excessively ambitious SWIP project.
- Clarence Sanders