Guest column: The truth matters on Tumalo Creek

Published in The Bulletin on September 23rd, 2017

A recent bombastic opinion column by Victor Chudowsky muddies the water on Tumalo Creek and needs correction.

Photo of Tumalo Creek courtesy of Rob Windlix

Photo of Tumalo Creek courtesy of Rob Windlix

The city of Bend in 2012 decided to pursue an expensive project on Forest Service land through which the city would increase the amount of water it takes from Tumalo Creek instead of relying more on existing groundwater supplies. The approximately $60 million project was opposed by conservative business leaders, seven former mayors and over 1,000 petition signers who believed the project was too costly and would unnecessarily result in higher water rates to Bend’s citizens — as has occurred.

On behalf of its supporters, LandWatch opposed the project, not only because of its extraordinary financial cost but its environmental cost to Tumalo Creek.

Tumalo Creek, flowing over Tumalo Falls and through Shevlin Park, is one of Central Oregon’s iconic gems. It provides unique recreational opportunities and important cold water habitat for resident trout and the Middle Deschutes River. The initial project proposed increasing the amount of water taken from Tumalo Creek, further reducing flows in the creek and degrading conditions for the fishery.

The city pursued its plans anyway, and LandWatch filed suit. The judge granted a preliminary injunction against the project and agreed with LandWatch that the plan would harm the creek based in part on the Forest Service admission that it would violate water quality standards. In response, the city scaled back its proposal which was ultimately approved by the courts.

Now, Chudowsky falsely claims that “LandWatch’s legal bungling has screwed Bend citizens out of $46 million” and has “resulted in $46.4 million of unnecessary costs to our water system,” including an alleged $40 million in “loss of hydropower revenues.”

The above-quoted claims are patently false, not to mention bizarre. The city never requested approval for hydropower development in its application to the Forest Service, and so the court’s most recent opinion did not even address it. Chudowsky talks out of both sides of his mouth, even acknowledging that the City Council itself chose not to pursue hydropower. That was because of factors like high costs and loss of federal subsidies. Blaming LandWatch for what the City Council did is blatant scapegoating.

Chudowsky also wrongly claims that the city’s delayed construction costs and attorney fees are the fault of LandWatch. Most of the costs were the result of the city’s decision to pursue an environmentally harmful project seeking more water from an already overstressed creek. That was the city’s doing, not LandWatch’s. Nor was LandWatch responsible for the city’s choosing an expensive attorney from Washington, D.C., to represent it.

What is most offensive, though, about Chudowsky’s utterances is his tone and level of distortion. He claims that LandWatch “has screwed Bend citizens out of $46 million,” and has “saddl(ed) us with this immense financial burden.” He misuses terms like “revenues,” “costs,” “financial burden,” and “losses” as if they are the same thing. The truth is that to determine “net revenues” (“losses” or “profits”) you subtract “costs” from “gross revenues.” For example, the city’s own hydro report calculated that debt service and other costs would result in net revenue for 2014 of only $35,000. The claim that the city’s 2012 decision not to do hydro then allegedly caused a “loss” of $40 million or foreclosed hydro for 40 years isn’t correct. The city’s decision not to pursue hydro didn’t create a “cost” or “financial burden”; it actually avoided the cost and debt.

Chudowsky’s extreme distortions of facts and misuse of terms are unfortunately all too common on the national political front. It is disappointing to see them used locally.

Given the dire Forest Service predictions of 30 percent to 40 percent less surface water in Tumalo Creek in spring and summer and resulting reduced availability of city water right from anticipated climate changes, the wisdom of the Tumalo Creek project is in considerable doubt.

— Paul Dewey is executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch.