After two years of study, the Bend City Council was expected to make what is essentially a final decision on the future of the city's domestic water supply. Facing a looming deadline to meet new federal drinking water requirements, councilors were expected to approve a proposed $73 million upgrade to its Bridge Creek water system. The aging system currently delivers more than half of the city's drinking and domestic water, but is in need of significant repairs.
At the same time, the city faces a 2012 deadline from the Environmental Protection Agency to either switch over to groundwater or begin treating its surface water for cryptosporidium, a microscopic contaminant that can threaten untreated water supplies like that of Bend, which has been problem free to date. The city is opting to tackle both challenges simultaneously, installing several miles of new delivery pipe and a treatment system. The city is also weighing the possibility of constructing a small hydropower generation facility along its pipeline, similar to what several of the irrigation districts have done. If successful, the hydro system would generate a modest stream of revenue to offset some of the system costs, which are expected to result in a significant rate hike for city water users. (Some estimates show city water rates increasing by 200-300 percent over the next several years). The hydro system, and the larger Bridge Creek upgrade, have been met with skepticism by some conservationists who worry that the city will be tempted to increase its annual water withdrawal from Tumalo Creek to keep its hydro power turbines spinning. The city has downplayed those concerns, emphasizing the benefits of both hydro development and the advantage of having a multi-source water supply. Councilors were expected to follow the city's staff recommendation on the new treatment system, going with the more expensive membrane filtration over a UV system because it would also safeguard the city against wildfire.
Councilor Jodie Barram said the situation isn't ideal in many respects. However, she said the city has run out of time and options.
"This is one of those times when the leadership of the community has to make a decision. We can't stall any longer," Barram said. (EF)