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An Uninterupted River Runs Through It 

The current state of river obstructions on the Deschutes River as it flows through Bend


The Deschutes River Trail offers nearly uninterrupted access for hikers and bikers along the banks of the river in six stretches ranging from one to four miles through the heart of Bend.

But for those who want to play and recreate IN/ON the water rather than beside it, there are four non-navigable, man-made obstructions standing between Bend and full river accessibility for recreationalists and serve as a problem for the native inhabitants of the Deschutes, the fish.

The "paddle trail," as it's called, is navigable from Benham Falls to Colorado Ave. (with whitewater for expert paddlers; including Lava Island, Benham and Dillon Falls). But then the problems begin just before the Colorado driving bridge.

"Once you hit the urban area, you hit four major spillways in town in a three- or four- mile distance," explained Geoff Frank, owner of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, and a member of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance board. In that stretch, The Colorado Spillway, The Mirror Pond Dam at Newport Ave., the Tumalo Irrigation Canal and the North Unit Dam all block continuous river navigability in varying degrees.

"A lot of the spillways are from an old Bend era," said Frank. "From the mill days, they are old archaic dams that don't serve purposes now."

Some updates to the obstructions are underway including the Colorado Dam Safe Passage project—scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2015—that, as the name suggests, would allow for safe passage of both floaters and fish past the Colorado spillway, as well as an added white water play park for boaters.

However, reaching this "something-for-everyone" solution took 12 years according to Frank, and comes with a price tag of $7.35 million. As construction begins this fall, the Colorado Dam Safe Passage project will serve as a shining example of hard work leading to a well-balanced and highly beneficial solution to redirecting the flow of the river.

Colorado Avenue Dam

Location: Immediately downstream of Colorado road bridge

Fish: Partial obstruction

Floaters: Full obstruction

Currently, the Colorado Avenue Dam represents a central safety hazard for floaters and a challenge for fish passage due to a largely ineffective fish ladder. After the 2005 opening of Farewell Bend Park, and the accompanying influx of lazy-day tubers from the Old Mill District to Downtown Bend, several accidents have prompted a redesign of the spillway and nearby footbridge.

The planned improvements include a new river-left channel that will allow for river use bypass and fish passage. A middle channel will serve as a whitewater play park for recreationalists and the far right will be a wildlife channel.

"There are side eddies so [the fish] can pull out of the main current and rest and then get back into the main current to go upstream," said Chelsea Schneider, who explained in-stream work on the project is set to begin in September. "The parks district primary goal of the project is the floaters. It's the reason why it was a bond measure to provide for safe passage because there have been accidents and fatalities at the site and we want to make sure the river is a safe place for people to play. There's been discussion inside the district and elsewhere as to the future potential of this type of project. I would like to see how this one goes and what we can learn from it, and where we can go from there."

Newport Avenue Dam/Bend Hydro Dam

Location: Near Newport Ave. Bridge

Fish: Full obstruction

Floaters: Full obstruction

With what seems like never-ending discussion of the fate of Mirror Pond and the Newport Avenue Dam, the prospect of dam removal, or a hybrid solution to the current pond challenges (see News, page 7), represents an opportunity for full fish passage. Brett Hodgson, a fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, explained that while ODFW understands that the Mirror Pond issue is complex, its goal is to see fish migration increase.

"To meet our fish management goals we would like to see passage at each of the artificial obstructions," said Hodgson. "There are a few things that constitute triggers and invoke the state's fish passage statute. One of them would be construction of a new dam. One of them is removal of a dam. One is a 30 percent or greater modification of a dam."

Bend Feed Canal Dam/Tumalo Irrigation District diversion dam, Often referred to as the StEidl Dam

Location: Near Pioneer Park

Fish: No obstruction, fish ladder in place

Floaters: Full obstruction

"The Steidl Street spillway is a sleeper," explained Geoff Frank. "But it would be easy to modify because it's a canal intake. You could take the intake on river-left and have a free flowing on the right."

North Canal Dam

Fish: Full obstruction

Floaters: Full obstruction

A plan is currently in motion to build a fish ladder at the North Canal Dam site. The Department of Fish and Wildlife entered into an agreement with the three irrigation districts associated with the site (Central Oregon Irrigation District, Swalley Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District) to share costs to provide passage by fish ladder at the site. Brett Hodgson confirmed that ODFW is in the process of getting its finances in line for the project, and that he hopes to have full fish passage through the North Canal Dam by 2017.

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