Deadline nears: Conditions for a Drift Creek Reservoir outlined by state

September 2014 Posted in News
The sign is across the street from Victor Point Elementary School. Behind the sign is where the proposed Drift Creek reservoir would be built.

The sign is across the street from Victor Point Elementary School. Behind the sign is where the proposed Drift Creek reservoir would be built.

By Kristine Thomas

A Drift Creek reservoir moved one step closer to becoming a reality July 22.  That’s when the Oregon Water Resources Department issued a proposed final order or PFO to the East Valley Water District on its plan to construct the reservoir and store public waters.

The PFO outlined several conditions that must be meet before the OWRD would issue a final order and a permit to allow construction to begin, along with a certificate to allow the water to be used.

With each step, there is an opportunity for both the applicant and project opponents to protest the conditions outlined by the OWRD.

Victor Point landowners affected by the proposed reservoir plan to file a protest through their attorney, according to farmer Bruce Jaquet.

The deadline to protest the PFO is 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5. Protests must be delivered in writing to the Oregon Water Resources Department, 725 Summer St., Salem.  They must include the opponent’s name, address and phone number; a description of the person’s interest in the PFO; a detailed description of how the action proposed would  impair or be detrimental to that party’s interest; a detailed description of how the PFO is in error or deficient, and how to correct the alleged error. The protest fee for the applicant is $350 and for others, $700.

In previous interviews with Our Town several Victor Point landownerss said they oppose the reservoir because it would flood the land of more than 10 farmers, several of whom represent the fourth generation on the land.

Other concerns include:

• the land being outside the water district’s boundaries;

• the impact on fish and wildlife;

* the safety of the site in the event of an earthquake;

• the threat of EVWD using eminent domain to obtain the land;

• ublic money being used for the project, and,

• the necessity of transporting the water from Victor Point to Mount Angel and beyond.

If built, the reservoir would flood about 340 acres of land and provide about 12,000 acre feet of water. The water would be used to irrigate more than 15,000 acres of agricultural land in Marion and Clackamas counties. According to the application, the water would be stored from Nov. 1 to April 30 and used May 1 to Oct. 31.

Lauren Reese of Integrated Water Solutions, serves as a facilitator and communications specialist for the EVWD. She said board members have not commented on whether or not the EVWD will protest any of the conditions in the PFO. It’s a busy time of year for the farmers, she explained.

EVWD board members are chairman Dave Bielenberg, Glenn Goschie, Duane Eder, Ryan Eder and Kevin Loe. The board has looked at several water supply strategies and more than 75 sites before selecting Drift Creek because, according to the EVWD website, it “fits the criteria for providing a sustainable water source now and in the future.”

The site was listed in a 1993 study of possible solutions following an OWRD directive to find an alternate water supply.  The need for a reservoir stems from anticipated future use. “Limited surface water supplies and lowering ground water levels make the development of a new surface water source an imperative,” the district website states

During a Aug. 25 interview in Salem, OWRD Senior Policy Coordinator Racquel Rancier and Water Rights Services Division Administrator Dwight French explained the steps once a PFO is received. There are four steps to the permit application process – the initial review, the proposed final order, the final order and permit, and the certificate.

“When folks apply for a water rights permit, we have a quite involved process,” French said.

French said the PFO provides the EVWD with a list of things to “take care of” before it can begin construction.

Those things include addressing conditions regarding fish passage; riparian area; water quality; Endangered Species Act mitigation; wetlands mitigation and fish screening and by-pass.

“The safety of the dam and impoundment would be assessed and addressed by the department’s dam safety engineer,” the PFO reads. “If a permit is issued, the permit holder may not begin construction of the reservoir until the department approves the engineering plan and specifications.”

French said EVWD would have to meet the conditions in the PFO in order to receive a final order and permit and can’t use the water until a certificate is received.

Some of the conditions outlined in the PFO are expensive to complete, French added,  including the fish passage and determining a plan for the riparian area.

He also noted the EVWD does not own the property where the proposed reservoir would be constructed.

“The East Valley Water District,” he said, “isn’t going to spend a lot of money to purchase the land unless they have the permit in their hand.

After the deadline to contest the PFO, French said his department has 60 days to determine whether to grant a final order or refer the matter of protests for a contested case.

French said the state statue states his department must provide an answer to the applicant about whether or not it will receive a final order within 180 to 270 days. “That is so the applicant gets an answer one way or another,” he said.

Before moving forward with a contested case, French said the water rights department would talk to all the parties involved to determine if there is a resolution that would be in the best interest of all.

“If we go to a case hearing, that is expensive and time consuming for all the parties,” he said. “We want to provide an opportunity to avoid a contested case hearing.”

A contested case would be heard before an administrative law judge, Rancier explained, adding issues could be contested all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court.

If a final order permit were issued, French said, the EVWD would have 10 years to meet conditions and complete the reservoir. The EVWD estimates building the reservoir would cost $60 million.

So far how to transport water from the Victor Point area to the farms in the EVWD hasn’t been addressed.

French explained the EVWD board would have to go through an entirely separate permit process  to receive permission to transport the water.

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