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Who Will Speak for the Fish? 

Another pipe permit, another lawsuit

click to enlarge img_1288.jpg

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Forest Service issued a permit for the City of Bend to lay new pipe.

The decision was, in golfing terms, a "mulligan." A re-do, as a year earlier the City of Bend had applied for a similar permit to replace two decades-old pipes with a single, larger, 20 inch diameter, 10 mile long pipe—essentially a giant straw drawing water from Tumalo Creek, a cold water tributary to the Deschutes River and one of the City of Bend's primary drinking water resources.

At the time, in spite of protests from local conservationist groups, who complained about the environmental harm pulling more water from the creek could do, the Forest Service issued a permit for construction in 2012. (Although providing water for the City, the pipe and the water source primarily reside on federal land.)

But as fast as construction for the new pipe geared up a year ago, it quickly came to a screeching halt when Central Oregon LandWatch filed—and won—an injunction in federal court, with District Judge Ann Alken declaring that the project would "degrade water quality, and harm fish and wildlife around the area."

Flash forward to a year later, and it seems to be a Groundhog moment; as in, haven't we already reported this news story? City officials continue to press for replacing two smaller pipelines—one from the 1920s, the other from the 1950s—with a larger pipe (officially called the Bridge Creek Pipeline Replacement Project).

On Nov. 4, the Forest Service once again greenlighted the project. And, again, just as quickly, conservationists filed another lawsuit to stop construction, claiming that the City's redo didn't change the basic premise of the proposed pipeline and, as a result, failed to address the central concerns about protecting the integrity of Tumalo Creek and fish populations there.

In a press release, LandWatch Board member Mike Tripp plainly states, "(t)he revised analysis varies little from last year's [Environmental Assessment] that the court rejected."

LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey went further to explain that the new permit holds the very same threats to water quality at Tumalo Creek and fish populations. "Tumalo Creek is in bad shape," asserts Dewey. "The creek suffers from low flows and high temperatures." He adds that pulling more water from the ecosystem will only make the ecosystem even more vulnerable. "[T]his project will build a larger capacity pipeline that will only further degrade the system."

Regardless, the City plans to soldier forward, with announced plans to break ground on Dec. 5.

The pipeline is a $24 million component of a larger project to increase and, according to city officials, improve the quality of drinking water in Bend. Two days, after the Forest Service approved the pipe permit, City Council in a closely contested 4-3 vote approved a controversial water treatment process that will service the water drawn from the new pipeline. (For more information—and commentary—about that decision, turn to page 6.)

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