Mirror pond fish passage, is it back? Guest post.

If you’ve been around Bend for any amount of time you probably recall a few years ago when there was extensive discussion of dredging Mirror Pond and the potential of adding fish passage to the Mirror Pond dam. Despite considerable effort no action was taken. Last year an advisory committee was formed to look at the issue again, some design work was done, and it is now time for public input at a meeting being held on November 7th from 9 to 11 am. Here is a link to official background material. Here is the link to attend the meeting via Zoom. KTVZ has a brief story on this. Mike Tripp, a member of the advisory committee, alerted me to all this and provided background material and his perspective on the issue, below. My 2 cents is that wild, native fish must be able to move freely up and down rivers in order to access food, spawning habitat, and pockets of cold water in the summer to maximize their health and abundance. Adding passage to the dam that creates Mirror Pond is an excellent idea.

From Mike Tripp:

The PacifiCorp hydroelectric dam on Mirror Pond in Bend was constructed circa 1910. At that time, it included fish passage. Fish passage fell into disrepair and was decommissioned in the 1960s. Jurisdiction over the project and fish passage was returned to the state of Oregon when PacifiCorp obtained a controversial exemption from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensure in 1995. Although fish passage at artificial obstructions has been in theory mandated since statehood inception, no requirements for fish passage were imposed by state agencies following the FERC exemption. Subsequently Oregon new statutes (2001) and administrative rules(2006) were enacted to facilitate resolution of fish passage obstructions , but passage remedy at the Mirror Pond dam was not required when extensive repairs were undertaken by PacifiCorp within the last decade.

The City of Bend and the Bend Park and Recreation District undertook a two-year project regarding the future of Mirror Pond from 2013 to 2015, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. This was undertaken as PacifiCorp at that time indicated they intended to decommission the Mirror Pond dam. While the corporation subsequently reversed their position, the conclusions of that effort are the best available assessment of public sentiment regarding Mirror Pond. The 2015 “Vision” included 5 points that received >70% support; one of those five was restoration of fish passage at Mirror Pond.

No action followed however for several years, until it came to public knowledge in 2019 that plans were underway to dredge the pond. Much debate followed, and in that process the “Vision” of restoration of fish passage was again recognized. The City and BP&RD, in acknowledgement of this, convened an Advisory Committee in 2021 to assess options for restoration of fish passage at the PacifiCorp dam.

That Advisory Committee was convened with a charge to recommend priorities for future pursuit of fish passage restoration at the dam. The intent was for committee work to be an open public process, but public involvement to date has been very limited. The committee decided that a necessary step was a basic objective assessment of passage options. Presentation of an engineering analyses of 3 options is anticipated this fall.

What has become apparent is that restoration of fish passage at the dam brings up arguments from science but just as importantly politics. Public sentiment as expressed in the 2015 “Vision” is clear. Equally clear is the avoidance of meeting standards for fish passage by PacifiCorp for the past 60 years. Corporate arguments as to lack of value of fish passage have been invalidated by recent restoration work and scientific studies: restoration of passage at the North Canal dam (2017), genetic studies by ODFW (2019), and ongoing large public investments for instream flow restoration in the middle Deschutes in the summer and upper Deschutes in the winter.

Discussion in the public arena led to formation of the Advisory committee; to revival of the 2015 “Vision”. Given the limited scope of committee work, it is unclear what will follow the preliminary engineering study. Continued public involvement and input is needed if the “Vision” for restoration of fish passage at Mirror Pond is to be realized.