Letter: Bend’s water system is a torture

By Paul Dewey /

The Bulletin’s editorial “Water project delay carries unknown cost” gives a brief history of the city’s controversial Tumalo Creek Surface Water Project. It unfortunately omits the reasons why the project is opposed by such a broad cross-section of the community, from fiscal conservatives to conservationists.

The overall cost of the project is a stunning $60-plus million, including pipe, treatment plants, consultants and city staff. It would be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in the city’s history and a huge cost for such a small population base.

The editorial states, “The city is not asking to take more water from the creek.” To the contrary, the city uses about two billion gallons of water annually. Under the recently approved Forest Service permit, the city plans to take four billion gallons. And the new pipe is so large it could carry billions more.

But where we do agree with the editorial is its statement, “Bend’s water torture continues.”

There’s the torture that this project is unnecessary. A safe, reliable water system already exists and can be preserved in the future for far less cost.

There’s the torture of the city claiming that any delay “might” cost the city an additional $2.9 million to resurface Skyliners Road. There’s no reason to put a pipe under Skyliners Road. (Big pipes have to be placed under roads in a city because there is nowhere else to put them.) Any pipe the city might eventually need could be put in its existing right-of-way or beside roads (so when a pipe needs repairs the roads don’t have to be dug up).

There’s the torture of the city wanting to take more water from Tumalo Creek, when for the past decade water diverters like irrigation districts and the city of Sisters have been putting water back in the rivers.

There’s the torture of water rates increasing by 34 percent over the past few years alone to pay for the pipe, plus more rate increases coming to pay for the high-end membrane treatment.

There’s the torture of the city claiming that any legal challenges will cost taxpayers money. Any cost of a lawsuit would be a small fraction of the money that would be saved if the city would stop wasting more money on this project.

There’s the torture of inequitable water rates whereby low water users pay for more than they should. As Mayor Jim Clinton recently observed, the city is afraid to change its water rate structure lest it lead to lower consumption and thus a reduction in revenues that are necessary to fund these expensive projects.

There’s the torture of the city expanding its water system based on unrealistic projected growth figures.

There’s the torture of city staff deciding what projects they want, hiring expensive consultants to substantiate their plans and then going to the public for meaningless input that the city then disregards since the decisions have already been made and since the city doesn’t want to “lose” all “the sunk costs.”

There’s the torture of the Juniper Utility debacle where an improper condemnation by the city cost over $12 million in damages, interest and fees. Plus, another $14 million will be spent on upgrades, $3.6 million by Juniper Utility customers and $10.4 million by citywide ratepayers. Yes, more rate increases.

There’s the torture of knowing that even more costs are coming. The city is proposing yet more rate increases or bond increases to pay for possibly $100 million in new sewer systems. Sewer and water rates are on the same bills; in coming years that combination will hammer people, especially those on fixed incomes.

Probably the worst torture is the city treating ratepayers and Tumalo Creek as endless sources of revenue and water from which more and more and more can always be taken.

— Paul Dewey is the executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch and lives in Bend.