Bend water supply defender dead at 65

Roger Prowell protected Bridge Creek Watershed

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Published Jan 10, 2014 at 12:01AM

Roger Prowell, a longtime guardian of the city’s water supply, died Wednesday. He was 65.

A 24-year employee of the city of Bend, Prowell took on the job of protecting the Bridge Creek Watershed, one of Bend’s two sources of drinking water. Co-worker and longtime friend Spencer Cashwell said Prowell immersed himself in his work, coming to know the roughly 4,000-acre watershed through frequent hikes, until “it was like he had every rock named.”

Prowell had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative disease that attacks the nervous system. As the disease progressed over the last year, the city and Crux Fermentation Project both took steps to honor him. The city began the process of naming the previously unnamed source of Bridge Creek “Prowell Springs,” while brewer Larry Sidor created Prowell Springs Pre-Prohibition Lager.

Sidor unveiled the beer last month at a ceremony attended by Prowell, his family and friends, and presented it as his way of recognizing Prowell’s commitment to pristine city water.

Patrick Griffiths, Bend’s water resource manager, said Thursday was a sad day for those who knew and worked with Prowell.

“Roger was my original mentor and original boss, and I miss him dearly,” Griffiths said. “He really was the backbone of the surface water system and led the realization of how important surface water is to our community.”

Cashwell said Prowell wasn’t thinking about water when he started working for the city in 1984. He’d recently earned a teaching degree, and with an eye toward taking a short break to figure out what to do next in his life, Prowell took a job with the city streets department.

Cashwell said Prowell had been patching asphalt and putting up road signs for maybe a year and a half when the water department recruited him.

The water supervisors at the time recognized they didn’t have anyone with the capacity to read through thousands of pages of documents and draw up a plan for protecting the Bridge Creek watershed, Cashwell said, but thought Prowell might be the right man for the job.

“He’s an intellectual guy. You could tell you were talking to one of the smartest men on the planet in just a brief conversation,” Cashwell said.

Prowell started with the city just five years after the Bridge Creek Fire torched 4,300 acres in and near the Bridge Creek watershed. Recognizing the damage another fire could do to the water supply, the water department turned to Prowell to develop a plan to keep ash and sediment out of the water system.

The first filtration system at the Bridge Creek intake came out of Prowell’s efforts, Cashwell said, but in order to receive an exemption from treating its water for waterborne pathogens, the city had to find a way to restrict access to the watershed.

Working with the U.S. Forest Service, Prowell crafted an agreement to limit access to the watershed to hiking only, including the then heavily-used trail running along Bridge Creek, Cashwell said. The Tumalo Falls trail was developed as part of the effort, he said, creating a more scenic alternative to the Bridge Creek trail.

Wendy Edde, the city’s stormwater supervisor, said Prowell was dedicated to protecting the watershed on and off the clock. When lightning storms would roll through the area, Prowell would head to one of several vantage points overlooking the watershed, Edde said, watching for any strikes that might trigger a wildfire.

“There’s different levels of how someone can do a job, and he really took great care and did it to the best of his ability,” she said. “He made a difference we’re still feeling today.”

Edde said Prowell was vigilant about keeping Bridge Creek clean in order to protect those who could be seriously harmed by even minimal contamination.

“He was always about protecting the most vulnerable in our community,” Edde said. “He would always talk about the need to have really good water ‘for the grannies and the babies.’ He was always looking out for people.”

Prowell is survived by his father, Milton Prowell, wife Susan Prowell, and sons Erik and Brett Prowell.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com