Bend water fight goes on: New USFS permit, same dispute

Tumalo Creek withdrawals capped; LandWatch likely to go to court again

BEND, Ore. - The Deschutes National Forest released a final decision Monday to issue a special use permit allowing the city of Bend to make controversial pipeline improvements to the Bridge Creek water supply system.

And in a case of deja vu -- or water not under the Bridge (Creek) -- opponents of the project say the revisions are far from good enough, the project remains a costly "boondoggle" -- and they are preparing to go to court yet again.

The city expects work to begin in early December, barring legal issues -- and has expressed confidence in the permit process this time around.

Here's the Forest Service announcement (with minor editing changes):

The final decision follows Deputy Regional Forester Becki Heath's response to issues raised by four objectors to the project.

With the decision, the Deschutes National Forest will issue a special use permit lasting for up to 20 years to let the city maintain and improve the water supply system on Deschutes National Forest lands, as analyzed in the environmental assessment.

Those improvements include installation of a 10-mile-long replacement water supply pipeline and upgrades to an existing intake facility.

A previous decision on issuing a special use permit to the city was withdrawn amid objections from foes of the project, who claimed it lacked adequate details about the impact on fisheries and habitat.

The major change in the new permit decision limits the city to withdrawing a maximum of 18.2 cubic feet per second from Tumalo Creek.  The Forest Service said the change will allow more water to be left in 10 miles of Tumalo Creek than remains under the city's current water piping system.

The new decision also calls for the city to monitor the flow of water both at the top of the pipeline, at the Bridge Creek diversion, and at the bottom of the pipeline, at the Outback water-intake site. 

While construction could begin immediately, the Forest Service has required the city to wait at least 30 days to allow them to notify the public of pending traffic impacts on Skyliners Road, which will remain open during construction.

For more information about the decision and the project, please contact Rod Bonacker, project coordinator, at 541-480-3915.

And here's the reaction from land-use attorney Paul Dewey of Central Oregon LandWatch:

"We just a couple of hours ago received the FS response to our objections.  I haven't had a chance to fully review the 50+ pages, but assuming that the FS made no substantial changes from the Draft Decision Notice and Environmental Assessment, we will prepare to go back to federal court. 

"The reason is that the infrastructure to be installed is exactly the same as it was last year, when the judge issued an injunction against the project. 

"The only difference is that the City now proposes to temporarily take only 18.2 cubic feet per seconds (instead of 21 cfs which they said they would take in last year's proposal)."

Dewey continued, "The FS press release is misleading when it says that more water will be left in  10 miles of Tumalo Creek when the City takes less than 18.2 cfs. 

"First, the FS EA acknowledges that before the end of the Special Use Permit period that the City will be using 18.2 cfs.  Also, the City is currently only using on average about 9 cfs annually, so the proposed 18.2 cfs will mean a doubling of consumption from 2 billion gallons of water per year to 4 billion gallons.

"Because it is the same project, it is the same waste of money.  Bend doesn't need a new, much larger pipe. 

"This $25 million pipe project is not about providing needed infrastructure to make sure the people of Bend have enough water.  The current groundwater/surface water system does that, and water demand is actually dropping because of the high water rates. 

"As was reported recently, the City is afraid of adjusting water rates to make them more fair for those who don't use much, since it would affect the financing of these large, unnecessary projects.

"What this project was originally designed for was to do a hydropower plant to generate money for the city.  That is why they designed such a large pipe through which water could flow with less friction and therefore more easily generate electricity. 

"The study done for the city even refers to the pipe as a "penstock" since its purpose was hydro. 

"As with Juniper Ridge, where the city wanted to get into the development business to generate funds for the city, the Tumalo Creek project is another boondoggle done at the expense of ratepayers/taxpayers.

"The additional negative here is that this project would also harm Tumalo Creek not only by increasing consumption but discouraging conservation (less water consumed would be less hydro revenues)," Dewey concluded.

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