Some ask: ‘What’s in it for us?’
The News Guard
Two meetings on either side of the weekend were host to very different reactions to a proposed deal between Lincoln City and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians that would allow the Tribe to use water from Devils Lake to irrigate Chinook Winds Golf Resort.
During a Monday, June 7, joint meeting, members of City Council and Tribal Council agreed the deal is a “win-win” – in sharp contrast to the concerns expressed at the Thursday, June 3, meeting of the Devils Lake Water Improvement District (DLWID), where one audience member asked: “What’s in it for us?”
At the joint meeting of the councils, City Manager David Hawker recapped what he sees as the benefits of the plan.
The agreement would see the Tribe using part of a City-owned water right on Rock Creek, which flows in to the south end of the lake, to pump water from an alternate diversion point at the north end, near the golf course.
If approved by the Oregon Water Resources Department, it would allow the Tribe to remove up to 3.7 gallons of lake water per second.
Hawker said the move would reduce the golf course’s demand for treated water, increasing the lifespan of the City’s current water sources – Schooner Creek and Drift Creek.
“It’s like us buying some water rights,” he said.
Hawker said the freed-up water will stay in Schooner Creek until it is needed, something he said would benefit the coho salmon that frequent the stream.
The lake water has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, which Hawker said would benefit the turf and allow the Tribe to reduce its use of synthetic fertilizers, leading to a reduction in the amount of unwanted nutrients entering the lake.
In addition, he said, the City will sell the lake water at a discounted rate, meaning the golf course will see its water bill cut in half.
“We are going to have some whining about the lake level,” he said, adding that his calculations, based on the golf course’s current water usage, show a potential drop of just a quarter-inch.
Fears about the potential effect on the lake level dominated discussion of the proposal at the DLWID meeting.
Wallace Voigt of N.E. Lake Drive said he read on the Internet that the lake would drop 3 feet if the Tribe goes ahead with plans to double the size of the golf course.
Lake Manager Paul Robertson issued a clarification, saying that even if the golf course expands, its annual irrigation demands would be equivalent to one and five-sixteenths of an inch of the lake’s depth.
Mark Highland said the district should have the ability to require that the Tribe stop pumping water if the lake level drops below a certain point.
Bill Pigott of East Devils Lake Road said the deal is a good one for the Tribe but not for the City or the district.
He urged the board to oppose the deal.
“I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s balanced,” he said. “I think it’s a bad deal. Even though you guys don’t have control over this, I don’t think you should stand up and say it’s OK.”
Mark Richards of N.E. 10th Street said the golf course owners should invest in more storage reservoirs on their property rather than resorting to lake water.
Contractor Bill Sexton said he dug the golf course’s original irrigation ponds, which he said provided sufficient water storage to irrigate the whole property.
He said lack of maintenance in the past 10 or 15 years has left those ponds overgrown and filled with sediment.
“With decent maintenance, they could have an unlimited amount of water,” he said.
The only speaker in favor of the plan was Paul Katen, president of the Salmon Drift Creek Watershed Council, one of two local conservation organizations Hawker has asked to support the proposed deal when it comes before the state for approval.
The other is the DLWID.
Katen, speaking in a personal capacity, lambasted audience members for their “single-mindedness.”
“Start thinking in terms of the community and not just Devils Lake,” he said. “And think to the future.”
He said lakefront property owners should consider the positive effect the deal would have in extending the lifespan of the City’s current water sources.
“If all the water is out of Schooner Creek and Drift Creek, they will go to Rock Creek,” he said, “and that will have an impact on the lake.”
Hawker confirmed that the City currently has the right to remove more than 22 gallons per second from Rock Creek before it even reaches the lake.
He said the City hopes never to have to use the Rock Creek water to meet customer demand.
“Obviously, without this agreement, if we do that at all, we would have to do it sooner,” he said. “Without this agreement, all of it would be removed, treated and go to the golf course and other users.”
Larry Brown of Indian Shores said it is not fair for the City to allow the Tribe to irrigate with lake water when individual lakefront property owners cannot do likewise.
He said allowing lakefront property owners to use lake water to irrigate their lawns would reduce the amount of fertilizer flowing into the lake as well as individuals’ water bills.
Hawker said such an arrangement would be nice but that the administrative burden of maintaining hundreds of different agreements and monitoring the amounts of water used by each property owner would make it impractical.
He said the City has opted against using lake water to irrigate public lakeside parks because their water demands, while far in excess of private homes, are too small to make it worth the paperwork.
The DLWID board has requested that the City and the Tribe send representatives to the district’s July 1 meeting to present the merits of the plan and take questions from the audience and board members.