Bend seeks to revive stalled water project

But critics not going along

Back to square one for water project?

BEND, Ore. - Bend's potentially $68 million Surface Water Improvement Project would replace the aging pipeline to Bridge Creek that delivers half of the city's water supply.

But that plan has been on hold since a judge granted an injunction a couple of weeks ago. Now the city has a new proposal to try to get things moving again.

From the looks of it, it seems the city is going back to square one.

Under the new plan, the city would limit its diversion from Bridge Creek to the amount of water it already has rights to.

But critics say that's still too much.

When city officials met Tuesday morning to discuss a new proposal for the water project, Central Oregon LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey was surprised.

"Here they go again," Dewey said. "This lame-duck city council making a decision for the new city council before the new city council can make a decision."

Granted most of the new city councilors don't assume office until next year (Sally Russell likely to be sworn in on Monday due to Kathie Eckman's resignation), Dewey said this shows exactly what his group has been trying to fight all along.

"This is a $70 million project," Dewey said. "And the ratepayers and taxpayers need to be involved in its development."

The city met with U.S. Forest Service officials and has decided to complete another environmental analysis to address the judge's water quality concerns that stalled the plan.

"We hope with that proposal we address the judge's concerns and give folks the opportunity to comment," said City Manager Eric King. "And again continue to sequence the project appropriately, so that we save our ratepayers money."

It's not just money the city hopes to save, but it also sees environmental benefits in the new proposal.

"We feel like we are actually scaling things back a bit," said Kevin Larkin, Bend-Fort Rock District ranger on the Deschutes National Forest. "So that we can improve conditions on the Tumalo Creek."

The city will limit the diversion to it's current maximum of 18.2 cubic feet per second.

"This project would install some new facilities," Bend Mayor Jeff Eager said. "With the intake, that would allow the city to to withdraw less when it needs less, thereby leaving that remaining water in the creek for the benefit of fish and everything else that enjoys the creek."

The city says the new proposal and the environmental impact analysis will be completed by next spring, just in time to do the work when Deschutes County rebuilds Skyliners Road.

Through that coordination, the city says it will save $3 million.

"This past summer, we saw a historic return flows to the creek in the lower part, below the diversion of over 10 cfs for the entire season," said Patrick Griffiths, Bend water resources coordinator.

Dewey said the election was a mandate, because voters chose new councilors that oppose the water project, showing the public doesn't want "business as usual."

But Eager, who's stepping down from the council in January, says the new proposal does not bind the new council to continue the project.

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