The Deschutes National Forest on Friday issued a revised environmental assessment and notice of a draft decision to issue a revised special use permit for a controversial city of Bend project to replace deteriorating water pipelines and do other Bridge Creek water system improvements.
The city submitted a new proposal for the project to the forest last fall, after foes organized as the group Stop the Drain won a court injunction to block the work, citing environmental impacts on Tumalo Creek and other concerns.
The city's new proposal required diversions from Tumalo Creek be limited to their current use of 18.2 cfs (cubic feet per second), which is less than the city's water rights allow.
Design features in the proposed new pipeline and diversion structure will enable the city to control water withdrawal. This means when city water demand is less than 18.2 cfs, as it often is now, more water will remain in Tumalo Creek. The city has said it cannot do that with its current, decades-old pipe because it must be kept full to avoid the threat of collapse.
The proposed pipeline replacement requires a special use permit from the Forest Service that was analyzed through an environmental assessment.
The Forest Service permit requires extensive additional monitoring of stream flows, temperature and fisheries in Tumalo Creek. This monitoring will be conducted to improve the understanding of the stream's hydrology and fisheries.
Also, during construction, the USFS will oversee monitoring of raptors, roosting bats, and western bumblebees near the construction site to determine if these species are present.
Critics also have alleged the city could surrender its creek water rights, dating back over a century, and rely solely on groundwater pumps, while supports of the project have said the dual-source flexibility is very valuable and should not be surrendered.
The 45-day objection period and process is outlined in 36 CFR 218. More information can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/centraloregon and clicking on Quick Links or by calling Rod Bonacker, USFS Special Projects Coordinator at 541-480-3915.
Bridge Creek is the city of Bend's main source of drinking water. The Bridge Creek source is located 11 miles west of the city at the end of Skyliners Road and USFS Road 4603.
The gravity-fed system includes a diversion structure and water intake facility on Bridge Creek built in the 1920s, and two 10-mile long water pipelines built in the 1920s and 1950s.
Water storage and disinfection facilities are located on property known as the "Outback Site", part of which is owned by the city, and part owned by the Forest Service and leased to the city.
The Bridge Creek project will replace the aging water pipelines with a single pipeline. The new pipeline will be moved out of the forest, and installed within the right-of-way for Skyliners Road, due for a major upgrade starting this fall.
The city also proposes to upgrade the Bridge Creek intake facility, adding fish screens and new features to control the rate water is diverted from Bridge Creek.
Because these actions occur on National Forest lands, they require a Forest Service special use permit and are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.