The City of The Dalles has applied three times to the state for a $1 million grant to help replace the leaking, wooden, century-old Dog River pipeline, which provides half the city’s water.
It has gotten closer to funding each time, and in mid-November, state staffers finally recommended the grant be funded. But then the Oregon Water Resources Commission delayed a decision on the staff recommendation until early next year.
In the meantime, the commission will evaluate a just-released preliminary environmental assessment by the Forest Service that found the proposed pipeline was not likely to have an adverse impact on threatened or endangered fish, said The Dalles Public Works Director Dave Anderson.
It also gives the city an opportunity to meet with two opponents of the project: environmental group WaterWatch, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.
Anderson is hopeful that the commission will fund the project at its next meeting.
WaterWatch’s main concern was that the proposed larger-diameter replacement pipeline would double the city’s capacity to take water. Because the city’s proposal said it intended to maintain some flow in the river August, September and October, that meant Dog River could potentially be dewatered the other nine months of the year, WaterWatch said.
Anderson said the Forest Service’s preliminary environmental assessment found that even if the city were to use its full water right and divert all the water in Dog River — which is actually a fairly small creek, he said — other water sources shortly below the diversion point restore the creek’s water flow.
Those other sources, he said, are springs and smaller tributaries that feed into Dog River, which is itself a tributary to the East Fork Hood River.
He said the city’s diversion point from Dog River is six river miles above where it dumps into the East Fork Hood River. The Forest Service environmental assessment found that threatened and endangered species of Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead were only found in the .1 mile above where Dog River feeds into the east fork.
Salmon don’t go farther upstream because it is too steep, he said, not because of a lack of water.
The circa 1911 pipeline is so leaky that, at peak flows in the springtime, it loses 1 million gallons of water a day. If it were to fail, it would present a severe water supply challenge to the city, Anderson said.
The pipeline replacement would increase flow capacity from 8 million gallons to 17 million gallons a day. That increase anticipates community growth.
The project would also install fish screens, fish passage facilities, and put a culvert on a Forest Service road where vehicles currently drive through a stream and muddy up the waters, Anderson noted.
The pipeline replacement project has been in the works for years. The $8-million estimate of cost may now be closer to $9 million because a few years have passed since that estimate was made, Anderson said.
The city has set aside $4 million in reserves and has a tentative award of $4 million from the Safe Drinking Water revolving loan fund, in the form of $1 million in grants and $3 million in low-interest loans.
One reason for increasing the pipeline, which allows the city to capture more of its water right, is to create the ability to store water in the winter. The city has already received approval to significantly increase the size of Crow Creek Dam, where the diverted water from Dog River goes, via the South Fork of Mill Creek. This would expand the dam by 30 feet, raising capacity from 267 million gallons to 550 million gallons.
WaterWatch said that the expansion of the reservoir triggered a requirement that 25 percent of the water in Dog River remain instream.
Anderson said those requirements are only tied to water storage projects, and the pipeline was not a water storage project.
WaterWatch also said that under state law, the city should rightfully forfeit any water rights above its current level of 12.4 cubic feet per second of water flow. The law says any unused flow should be forfeited after five years of not using it, WaterWatch said.
Anderson said the city has continuously used its water right, and is not resurrecting an old, unused water right. “We’ve used it every year, all year.”
The Warm Springs Tribe said it has treaty rights to fish in the Hood River Basin, which includes Dog River. “Those treaty rights include not only the right to take fish but also to have fish to take,” the tribes wrote.