To be a dam, or not

Water rights with Newport Dam could be transferred from utility

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

Published Oct 31, 2013 at 05:00AM

Local officials are researching options to maintain the Newport Avenue dam if the utility that owns the dam decides it no longer makes financial sense to generate hydropower at the site.

PacifiCorp discovered a leak in the dam Oct. 2. On Monday, the utility began lowering the level of Mirror Pond, behind the dam, in order to inspect the facility and determine whether it will require expensive repairs. If PacifiCorp decides not to maintain the dam on the Deschutes River, options include removing it, selling it or transferring ownership to another party, spokesman Bob Gravely said earlier this week.

Local officials want to know the utility’s plan for the dam, because they must decide how to respond to silt buildup in Mirror Pond. PacifiCorp holds water rights that allow the company to hold water behind the dam in order to generate power. Mirror Pond Project Manager Jim Figurski said that from employees of the Oregon Water Resources Department, he learned it’s possible to obtain water rights for recreational purposes; that might be one strategy if officials decide to keep the dam.

Kyle Gorman, south central region manager with the Oregon Water Resources Department, said “it is possible to obtain a water right through the transfer process, to maintain the dam in some manner.”

“Whatever the final decision is for the pond itself, there’s a way you could acquire a water right that would maintain that aspect,” Gorman said earlier this month.

Another official with the Oregon Water Resources Department said this would be an unusual request and there is no guarantee the state would grant it. “We don’t usually do transfers on hydroelectric (water rights), so what would be allowed is, ‘Let’s test the waters and see,’” said Mary Grainey from the agency’s hydroelectric division. “We’d have to have some internal discussions and see what’s proposed and compare it to what’s allowed.”

City Councilor Mark Capell, Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton and park district attorney Neil Bryant have begun private meetings with PacifiCorp about the future of the dam and hydropower project. If the utility decides not to maintain the dam, water rights will be among the issues the group discusses.

“That type of information does play into the conversations with (PacifiCorp),” Figurski said.

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