Editorial: Up a creek without the facts

If there’s a campaign to save Tumalo Creek, it’s got to be careful with the facts. Central Oregon Conservation Network’s campaign should be more careful.

The conservation network is a collection of local and state environmental organizations — Central Oregon LandWatch, Trout Unlimited, 1000 Friends of Oregon and five more. The effort is coordinated by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

The network makes an undeniably powerful and persuasive pitch for the importance of Tumalo Creek. But then it goes on to say this: “Still the City of Bend plans to increase its current water consumption of two billion gallons of Tumalo Creek per year to over 4 billion gallons with its potentially (sic) $68 million Surface Water Improvement Project (SWIP).”

That may help drum up efforts to slow or stop Bend’s water project.

And although it’s not factually incorrect, it’s not entirely correct, either. It fails by omissions. Glaring omissions.

This all goes back to a continuing debate about where Bend should get its water.

Right now, Bend gets roughly half its water from an intake on Bridge Creek. That taking of water, in turn, reduces the water flowing into Tumalo Creek. The other half of the city’s water supply comes from wells.

The city’s surface water project is about preserving access to the water from Bridge Creek so the city has the security of a dual source of water.

The water project would have the same intake on Bridge Creek and replace two old pipelines with one new pipe that carries the water about 10 miles downstream to a city water facility.

Opponents make many arguments. Some argue the better option is for the city to drill more wells. Some argue there is insufficient evidence that the old pipes are failing.

But the fact is that under the city’s surface-water project the city is not going to take more water from Bridge Creek than it can now, 18.2 cubic feet per second.

It may, indeed, use more of that water, but that would be because Bend’s population will grow.

What is also true about the water project is that right now, the city cannot modulate its intake from Bridge Creek. It’s on or off. It’s 18.2 cfs or 0 cfs.

The water project will enable the city to take only what it needs. The city will install a control valve. That gives the city a tool to keep more water in Tumalo Creek.

What’s also curious about the conservation network’s pitch is that it leaves out the entity that takes the most water from Tumalo Creek — the Tumalo Irrigation District. TID has rights to take up 200 cfs from Tumalo Creek. In recent years, it’s taken as much as 120-160 cfs. Right now it’s taking about 55 cfs. And it’s made big steps in the last 15 years to keep water in the creek.

Still, the biggest challenge for water in the creek is not Bend’s water project. It’s finding ways to help TID become even more efficient.

The city has not been without glaring omissions of its own on the water project. For instance, city officials have repeatedly expressed regret that they did not do more to bring in public input on the water project. But that in no way excuses the Central Oregon Conservation Network for not taking the facts seriously.