Unpermitted Water Ski Lakes Must Go through proper channels

Oregon's land use laws have preserved the natural abundance we all enjoy; it's critically important to uphold those laws now and for future generations. The lakes developed by KC Development Group in Tumalo destroyed wildlife habitat and were built in a rural residential area without the proper permits.

Thanks to the dedicated work of neighbors, LandWatch, and concerned citizens, on Wednesday, the Board of County Commissioners affirmed a Hearing Officer's decision to require conditional use permits for the waterski lakes.

Tumalo water reservoir project must start over

Deschutes County commissioners uphold reversal of past decision

By Ted Shorack / The Bulletin / @tjshorack

Published Mar 5, 2015 at 12:01AM

KC Development Group and the Tumalo Irrigation District will have to start over on their water reservoir project northeast of Bend.

Deschutes County commissioners agreed on Wednesday that transferring water to two reservoirs last summer needed to meet additional conditions before being approved.

The reservoirs don’t have to completely go away, but KC Development and the irrigation district will have to obtain conditional use permits before storing water at the site.

The board’s action affirms a decision made in December by a Deschutes County hearings officer who reached the same conclusion.

The project included constructing the reservoirs and placing a lining on the bottom. A permit was not obtained for the change and should have been, the board determined.

The commissioners also found that a permit would be needed for recreation at the site. Water skiing took place there over the summer, the board concluded, but would need to be approved through a review process instead of allowed outright.

The site is off of Johnson Road and is about 80 acres. The irrigation district saw the project as a way to save water because of the leaky nature of the Upper Tumalo Reservoir. About 125 acre-feet of water was kept at the two reservoirs, the amount needed to irrigate 22 acres of farmland.

KC Development, the company that owns the site, would pay the district $6,250 per year to store the water.

Some nearby residents opposed the project for various reasons including the effect water skiing might have on the surrounding wildlife.

Tom and Dorbina Bishop, who live near the site, appealed the Deschutes County planning division’s approval of the water transfer to a hearings officer.

The board’s decision on Wednesday primarily focused on whether the reservoirs existed before water was transferred or were newly developed, which would require a land use review process.

The site is now zoned as rural residential, but was once zoned for surface mining and excavation. KC Development and the irrigation district argued that the reservoirs were formed in part by past activity.

County commissioners determined that wasn’t the case and that the reservoirs were new to the site.

“The record shows there was a tremendous amount of work that needed to be done in order to actually facilitate the reservoir itself,” said Commissioner Tammy Baney.

Irrigation districts are allowed “operation, maintenance and piping of existing irrigation systems” without permit approval. But the board decided the reservoirs didn’t fit within that scope.

Commissioner Alan Unger said he agrees that the district can make changes on its canals and reservoirs without county approval, but said this change was different.

“This reservoir was not part of that system,” Unger said. “It was created to complement its system.”

The board agreed with the hearings officer’s decision to categorize the reservoir as a recreation facility, which requires conditional use permitting.

Baney said the idea to store and conserve water at the site was a “noble effort” and “new and creative,” but the process to get there needed to be different.

“It isn’t as though there may not be a pathway forward and a successful permitting process,” Baney said. “It’s just that there should be a conditional use so that we can take into account some of the considerations with such a development.”

The decision on Wednesday will be finalized in writing before being officially approved by the board. Opponents and proponents of the reservoirs could choose to appeal the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, tshorack@bendbulletin.com