Bend makes a smart water choice

The City of Bend has taken a commendable step to revise its surface water project. It announced Tuesday it’s going to propose to the U.S. Forest Service to take the same maximum amount of water that it takes now from Bridge Creek — 18.2 cubic feet per second.

The city had originally proposed taking a maximum of 21 cubic feet per second. It could take more water than 18.2 cfs under the new proposal, but it would have to mitigate for it.

The city’s $20 million water intake facility and pipeline project had ground to a dead stop in October. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Eugene granted a preliminary injunction after Central Oregon Landwatch filed a lawsuit.

The city had three choices, Bend Mayor Jeff Eager explained Tuesday.

It could appeal the judge’s decision. That process could be lengthy and uncertain.

It could try its case in court. That process could be lengthy and uncertain.

Eager said the city decided, instead, to revise its application to satisfy what it believes is the judge’s concern — keep more water in the creek to keep the water temperature down. The revision may also win over some opponents of the project who thought the city was making a grab for more water.

The city’s decision still has its share of length and uncertainty. The Forest Service will have to analyze the new proposal anew. There will be a new public comment period and opportunities for new administrative appeals and lawsuits. If all goes well, though, the city hopes it will be on track to begin construction in the summer.

There was already new uncertainty about the project cost. Submitting a new proposal to the Forest Service adds perhaps $40,000 to the price. Because of the delays in the project from the lawsuit, the dates for construction to begin have been missed and the project must be rebid. So, it’s hard to say if it’s still a $20 million project or not.

There is uncertainty about what direction the newly elected members of the council will advocate. And there is uncertainty about what Landwatch thinks about this new proposal. We called Landwatch Tuesday but didn’t hear back by our deadline.

At least, though, the city’s new proposal to take less water at its diversion point on Bridge Creek should help the health of the regional water system. Bridge Creek feeds into Tumalo Creek and Tumalo Creek into the Deschutes River.

It is also important to remember that even before the city decided to divert less water, by doing the surface water project the city stood to gain an important new ability to adjust how much water it takes from Bridge Creek. The city now essentially takes 18 cfs from the creek unless it shuts it down. If construction is able to proceed on the new project, the city will be able to modulate how much it takes from the creek based on need. For instance, to handle peak demand in the summer, the city can take the full amount. During the winter months, the city could cut the amount it takes in half.

The city’s new proposal is not likely to satisfy all the critics of the water project. It may well drain the concern that stopped the project, and it preserves access to an important water source for the city’s future.