By Hillary Borrud

The Bulletin

Bend public works employees expect to break ground for the city’s first drinking water filtration plant by late April or May.

If the city sticks to that timeline, project manager Heidi Lansdowne said she expects the plant to be operating by December 2015.

That means the city will miss its latest deadline this October to begin treating drinking water for cryptosporidium. Bend already received an extension of the original 2012 federal treatment deadline. The city expects to spend up to $33.5 million to complete the plant on top of at least $5 million it spent on the project design as of fall 2013.

“We just tried to rush things, and they’re not rushing as fast as we wanted them to go,” Lansdowne said on Tuesday. A Deschutes County land use official recently approved the city’s application for the project, which is west of Bend in an unincorporated area. People who disagree with the land use decision have until 5 p.m. Monday to file an appeal. As of Thursday morning, no appeal had been filed. Additional project questions from bidders and other issues caused the project timeline to slide a bit from the original goal of breaking ground in early April, Lansdowne said. Cities across the nation face a federal deadline to treat surface water for the microorganism cryptosporidium.

The project has been contentious, with much of the controversy focused on its cost. In 2009, a consultant studied various water treatment options and found that a membrane filtration system was the best option for Bend. The City Council voted 5-2 in December 2010 to build such a plant.

However, a new City Council voted 4-3 in February 2013 to re-examine the type of facility to build. The council asked a citizen committee to research treatment options, but the committee was ultimately split on the issue. City officials, consultants and the citizen committee estimated the cheaper option, an ultraviolet light treatment plant, would cost $12 million to $14 million. Ultraviolet light would deactivate cryptosporidium; the filtration system will remove it. In November, the City Council voted once again to proceed with the membrane filtration project, this time with a 4-3 split. Councilors who voted to proceed with the membrane filtration plant said it probably would be more reliable, because it is supposed to remove sediment from a wildfire or other event that might otherwise force the city to switch entirely to well water until the sediment subsides.

The nonprofit Central Oregon LandWatch raised several objections to the water filtration plant project, according to the Deschutes County hearings officer’s land use decision in favor of the project. LandWatch argued during the county review that the city should have included in the filtration plant plans a new water transmission pipeline that will connect to the plant. LandWatch and WaterWatch of Oregon filed a federal lawsuit last year, seeking to stop the pipeline project.

A judge has yet to reach a decision on the case but did allow the city to begin installing a new $24 million pipeline along Skyliners Road to bring drinking water from Bridge Creek to customers in Bend. According to the hearings officer, the city stated the treatment plant is a separate project and the city could connect it to the existing 1920s and 1950s lines even if LandWatch and WaterWatch prevail in stopping the new pipeline project.

LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,