As Legal Battle Stops Bend’s Water Project; Decision Should Go to New Council


Voters in the City of Bend recently elected three new city councilors and retained the lone councilor, Jim Clinton, who consistently voted against the city’s controversial $68 million surface water improvement project. An essential part of the city council election was the water project with the winning candidates taking an opposing stance against the current plan.

Victor Chudowsky said in a questionnaire to Cascade Business News: “We should reduce the cost of the SWIP by lobbying for an exemption from filtration rules, switching to a less expensive filtering system, and dropping the hydropower element if it is not of immediate benefit to ratepayers.”

Doug Knight was adamant in his opposition: “I was one of two City of Bend Planning Commissioners to vote against the City’s Water Public Facilities Plan because it included the description of a dual source system – which in essence was a de-facto surface water project endorsement. The origins of the data used to arrive at the decision to go forward with the surface water project are suspect, and the economic modeling relies heavily on the water rate-payers of Bend as well as the collection of uncertain SDC monies. For one-tenth of the cost, additional ground water wells could be drilled, of which we already have ground water rights for.”

Sally Russell noted: “Although it appears that the City is moving forward on the $68 million surface water project, this community cannot afford to be spending money on projects that aren’t critically necessary today. The City could have been much smarter with this project.”

In September Central Oregon Landwatch sued over a major portion of the project with hopes of overturning a Forest Service permit allowing the city to replace miles of aging pipeline and build a water intake facility at Bridge Creek, a tributary of Tumalo Creek. Attorney and founder of Landwatch, Paul Dewey said he believes the Forest Service was not correct in letting the city build this project on federal lands and that it violated federal laws.

Landwatch, which plays a vital role in achieving a responsible, balanced approach to planning for and conserving Central Oregon‘s land and water resources, struck a victory in court when U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken stopped all work.

Central Oregon Landwatch occupies an essential niche in protecting Central Oregon‘s fragile natural landscapes, watershed resources, ecosystems and the livability of its communities. Its activities include shaping state, regional and local policy agendas, strengthening the base of support for conservation at the community level, collaborating with like-minded allies to protect threatened areas and, when necessary, taking legal action.

Landwatch was joined in its opposition to the project by an organization called Stop the Drain believing: “this project is unnecessary, it relies on incomplete studies with misleading information, it is not cost-effective and the decision-making process by which the City of Bend chose it was entirely mishandled. Because the decisions we make today will affect Bend residents for many years to come, let’s be sure we are not draining our future by spending too much money on a pipeline to nowhere and setting bad precedents for how our City is run.” The group is supported by numerous former mayors of Bend.

Since the court blocked the project, city officials attempted to find a resolution to the lawsuit, but after only one meeting with opposing factors mediation sessions were called off.

Last week Bend officials announced a new strategy hoping to obtain environmental approval for the Bridge Creek water intake facility and pipeline project (this portion of the project was estimated to cost $20 million).

Bend Mayor Jeff Eager (who will be replaced on the council by Victor Chudowsky in the new year) said that a new proposal will be forwarded to the Forest Service that would maintain the current limit on city water withdrawals from Bridge Creek. Thus if the city wants to take more water from the creek in the future, it would have to offset the additional amount somewhere else.

Landwatch, who is the main player in this dispute, does not feel this is a satisfactory solution.

There is absolutely no doubt that stopping this project as planned has cost the city money in delays. But this isn’t the first time the City of Bend has made costly errors in judgment.  Most importantly this is a long term project that needs to be done correctly. There appears to be considerable opposition to the project, voters have indicated this by electing new councilors.

Despite the current council’s good intentions, they have lost a major legal battle. The voters elected four councilors opposed to the project and the water plan now needs to go to the new council in January.


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