Bridge Creek, which flows from the Cascade Mountains into Tumalo Creek, is the primary source of Bend’s high-quality drinking water. It’s the subject of much discussion these days, as the city of Bend works toward replacing the old, deteriorating transmission pipes that carry the water toward town.
The U.S. Forest Service issued a permit allowing the city of Bend to go forward with building a new system, but it’s in litigation from opponents who are concerned about the future of this creek.
The city has a responsibility to provide safe drinking water and adequate fire protection. There’s also an economic and community benefit to protecting this recreational asset. The city has diverted 18.2 cubic feet per second (CFS) since the 1950s. Following concerns from a prior environmental assessment, the city agreed to limit its diversion to that historical rate. Some opponents suggest the city intends to take more than that. But the 18.2 CFS limit will be enforced and monitored under the Forest Service permit.
And, at a special meeting Friday, the Bend City Council will vote on an ordinance reiterating councilors’ commitment to limiting the diversion to 18.2 CFS. If for some reason, someday the city needs to divert more than this, another environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act would begin.
I understand this community’s concern for the environmental health of this creek. However, the Forest Service has completed two environmental assessments showing no harmful outcome from this project. In fact, Tumalo Creek will be better off.
The new intake and pipeline system will not only address deficiencies but will also improve environmental conditions by allowing the city to withdraw less water from the creek when there is less demand from the city. The existing, 87-year-old intake facility lacks the ability to let the city take only the amount of water needed. The new project will include state-of-the-art flow controls and fish screening. Together, these designs address much of the public’s environmental concerns.
While the city’s project would improve conditions in Tumalo Creek, its regional impacts are small compared to large-scale conservation projects being planned by Tumalo Irrigation District.
The district delivers water from Tumalo Creek to serve agricultural needs, but is also committed to conservation and has plans to improve efficiency, reduce leakage in the canal system and keep water instream. The irrigation district holds the most substantial amount of water rights on Tumalo Creek and its tributaries.
The Bend City Council created the Tumalo Creek Restoration Subgroup to work with Tumalo Irrigation District to establish flow targets and identify priority projects to benefit the creek.
The state of Oregon has set minimum, optimum flow goals for streams throughout the basin, including Tumalo Creek. A water right was established for Tumalo Creek in 1990 to protect fish migration, spawning and rearing.
The Tumalo Irrigation District has completed several projects that now meet the minimal in-stream flow target of 10 CFS during the summer — an accomplishment considering the stream ran dry at times in the last decade. Future collaborative projects can get more flow into the creek in the future.
Throughout the project there has been much misinformation. Misinformation and litigation, costing the taxpayers of Bend nearly $2 million in delays and court costs, have been effective tools for those who disagree on the necessity to plan for the future growth of our amazing community and the infrastructure needed to support that growth.
As a City Council and a municipality we have made it a priority to plan infrastructure and development needs while protecting the health of our beautiful Central Oregon environment. We need to prioritize communication and present clear and concise information while we work toward the future. With proper planning, cooperation and communication, our goals can all be met simultaneously, and while everyone might not agree on the project, they all will have the same set of facts.
— Scott Ramsay, Bend city councilor, lives in Bend.