The passing of another year is always a time for reflection; a look back at what could have gone better, a look ahead at what we hope we can improve in the coming year. And with this annual reflection comes a reminder of one of the most intractable issues in Bend: O yes, it's that one — Mirror Pond.
The past several years have brought so many major issues to the fore in Bend and Central Oregon — a pandemic, mental health crises, shootings, racial justice protests and the rising number and visibility of the houseless population, to name a few. With those things to contend with, little ol' Mirror Pond and its constant questions about whether to dredge it and how to make it more ecologically sound have been moved to the background of the most important issues facing Bend. We find ourselves with so many life-and-death concerns that as it stands now, it may be impossible to get anyone to agree to pay to sling mud out of the bottom of a body of water that collects in front of an ancient dam.
And while there appears to be no real movement on getting any public bodies to pay for dredging the river in the name of tradition, there has been movement on the biggest ecological issue concerning Mirror Pond: the fact that Newport Dam presently offers no way for fish to move above or below it.
In 2020 the City of Bend and the Bend Park and Recreation District agreed to form the Mirror Pond Fish Passage Committee, which has since been meeting to try to develop a serviceable plan to establish fish passage at Newport Dam. Prior to that, some in the business community began to again raise the issue of whether we should use public funds to dredge the pond. The majority of the city's elected leaders put their feet down in the proverbial pond-mud and said they could not support any movement on that without first addressing the habitat concerns. Enter another long, drawn-out public process to examine options and come up with ones that could work, which is where the process sits now. Next will be the decision-making process to decide which, if any, of the fish passage ideas seem most feasible. And finally, when that's decided, local electeds will have to find the money to pay for such a project and to sell an ecological solution that is a half-step to do what needs to be done in the name of habitat restoration: Remove the dam altogether.
It's nice to see, in the midst of so many other issues we now regularly face, some movement on the topic of Mirror Pond. In the 25 years this paper has existed, the issue has warranted at least one news story and at least a few editorials every year. But while it's encouraging to see something happening, it's also a reminder of the massive effort needed to do the bare minimum. In a time when dams are being removed on the Klamath River in the name of salmon habitat restoration, we don't think it's too cynical to say again that an even bigger vision for Newport Dam should be possible.
But as a new year dawns, forgive us if we are getting weary of half-steps on one of our community's largest natural assets: the Deschutes River.