Being a former state senator, Bend-based attorney Neil Bryant understands lawmakers’ tendency to bristle at the thought of crafting a carve-out law aimed at narrowly helping an individual or entity. But when it comes to the century-old iconic Mirror Pond in Bend, he’s betting the Legislature would be receptive.
In November, PacifiCorp said the dam responsible for creating the pond is deteriorating. A large hole needs to be repaired and the company said it no longer makes financial sense to continue generating power using the dam.
City and park district officials recently said they would like to explore how to keep the pond intact. There are many issues to resolve, one of which is the ever-complicated matter of water rights.
And that’s where Bryant thinks lawmakers could come in.
Right now, the dam has water-storage rights associated with generating power.
The potential legislation would apply narrowly to Mirror Pond and allow a special water right for storage based on recreation and aesthetic purposes.
It’s one strategy.
“Hopefully, the Legislature would understand and say, ‘This is reasonable,’” Bryant said.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said he’s certainly concerned Bend wouldn’t be the same without the pond.
“I think it’s important to the future of Bend to save Mirror Pond in the form I think we all know and love in that downtown area,” Knopp said. “And if a bill is needed and city leaders are in pretty general agreement that’s the direction they want to go, I would be happy to introduce a bill to save Mirror Pond.”
Bryant noted the legislation would help maintain the status quo as far as the water rights are concerned. The current water rights to store water are based on generating power and are non-consumptive, meaning the water goes back into the river.
“Whoever has the water right, it’s still non-consumptive, they aren’t taking the water to irrigate or for other purposes,” he said. “It’s to store water in the river. The physical water isn’t changing, you just need an expanded water right for recreation.”
Other ideas are being considered as well. For example, someone could transfer their water storage rights to Mirror Pond.
Jayson Bowerman, with the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, said he’s hoping the city can move beyond the polarizing conversation of whether to keep the dam or return the river to its natural free-flowing state to create a more unique situation. There are ways to engineer a dam, he said, that would still allow for recreation and restore portions of the pond to its natural state.
“We’re looking for solutions … to bridge the interests of (those) who want to retain Mirror Pond and those who want to see the natural river. We want both,” he said.
Knute Buehler, a Republican who is running for House District 54, the seat being vacated by Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, said he believes Mirror Pond is an icon of Bend and should be preserved. He’s open to ideas.
“Whenever you have a big transition point, there is always an opportunity to create something new. I think people should think out of the box,” he said.
Since the discussion is in its early stages, it’s impossible to know how the legislation would be drafted.
“If there is needed legislation (to preserve the pond) at the state level, I would be very interested in looking at that,” Buehler said.
Craig Wilhelm, the Democratic candidate for House District 54, said he’s looking forward to the process continuing at the city level before he weighs in.
“It’s just one of those things, it’s at the city level and as a legislator, I (would) have to listen to the constituents,” Wilhelm said.
Knopp acknowledged there are often unanticipated challenges to passing legislation.
“There is always going to be opposition, but the key is, the community of Bend is supportive of moving in the direction of saving Mirror Pond. … If we’re doing a specific bill to allow a water right fix and it’s not costing the state a lot of money, it’s more likely to gain traction with legislators,” he said.
“I think this is unique and has obviously been a characteristic of Bend for a long time,” Knopp said.
— Reporter: 541-554-1162, firstname.lastname@example.org