Dog River Pipeline replacement in the works for more than 2 decades

THE DALLES — The City of The Dalles is utilizing groundwater wells to meet the community’s water needs as surface water supplies — stored in Crow Creek Reservoir in the Mt. Hood National Forest — are negatively impacted by drought, according to Public Works Director Dave Anderson.

“Our situation this year is much like 2015, another drought year,” Anderson said, forcing the city to turn to wells as the city’s reservoir empties.

Dog River Pipeline

Dog River Pipeline Head Gate vintage photo.

That could soon change, however. In the future, reliance on wells will be greatly reduced, even in drought conditions, as work currently underway to replace an important component of the city’s infrastructure — the Dog River Pipeline — is completed.

The Dog River pipeline is a 3.5-mile long, 20-inch diameter wood-stave pipeline constructed in the early 1900s using milled pieces of Douglas Fir secured with heavy galvanized wire and sealed with tar, and has served the city for over a century.

The city plans to replace the wooden pipeline with modern materials. The new pipeline will double the capacity of the pipeline to provide more “operational flexibility” for the city. In a 2020 report, the historic pipeline was described as “deteriorating, leaking and at risk of catastrophic failure.”

“The new Dog River Pipeline will be one element of a planned improvement program that will make our water system more resilient to future droughts,” Anderson said. “First, it will eliminate the leakage currently experience with the 110 year old wooden line, providing more water for use by our customers. And second, since the new pipeline will be larger its greater capacity will allow the City to capture and store more water from Dog River in future storage systems.”

In the short term, however, the amount of water drawn from Dog River will not change significantly. “The city does not have any place to store more water,” Anderson explained. The existing pipeline already has the capacity to divert all of Dog River’s summer flows. “In fact, the immediate impact of the new pipeline is that less water will be taken from Dog River.” That is because leakage will be eliminated, and as part of the project permitting process the city committed to provide “by-pass flows,” water that will remain in Dog River, during the months of August, September and October, which doesn’t currently occur.

“In the future, if the city develops additional storage capacity, the increased capacity of the Dog River pipeline will be able to capture more of the surplus spring flows for summer use,” Anderson noted. State-issued water rights regulate how much water a user may withdraw from its sources. The city already had water rights sufficient to support the capacity of the new pipeline so no new water rights were needed, Anderson said. “This project will just allow the city to use more of its existing water rights,” he explained.

Project timeline

Work is currently underway to design the new pipeline; a 20% design report was delivered last week and is under review by city staff, Anderson said. The project anticipates completion of the design over this coming winter and advertising a construction contract for bid in the spring.

Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer 2022 and be completed in the late fall 2023.

The project is being designed so that the new pipeline will be build generally alongside the existing pipeline, rather than in the exact same place. “This will allow the existing pipeline to remain in service while the new one is being built,” Anderson said. “Shutdowns of the existing pipeline are expected to be minimal and are not expected to significantly impact the amount of water provided to Crow Creek Reservoir.”

Long term project

The City of The Dalles has been saving money for the project for years while also completing other needed system improvements and maintenance projects. Funding was also sought and received from outside sources, including a $1 million grant from the Oregon Water Resources Department and a $4,030,000 loan from the Oregon Infrastructure Finance Authority for the project, $530,000 of which does not need to be paid back.

“Because the city had been saving money for the project and because it had set rates to support it, the city qualified for the best terms available for the loan at 1% interest over 30 years,” Anderson said. “If our water utility rates had been lower than they are, the loan interest rates would have been significantly higher.”

As the project is still under design, it has not yet been determined if the funding currently available for the project will be enough to see it through to completion. “However, since it is a multi-year project, we will have the opportunity to add to the city’s reserve for the project in future fiscal years if needed,” Anderson said.

Anderson has personally been working on the pipeline replacement project for over two decades, starting in the mid 1990s by providing input to long-range planning efforts by the U.S. Forest Service underway at that time. “Since the pipeline is located on Forest Service land, we needed to ensure that their plans included provisions for the pipeline’s eventual replacement,” he explained. In 2007, the city entered into a funding agreement with the Forest Service to conduct the needed environmental analyses for the project and in 2010 the city submitted a Proposed Action outlining the details of the pipeline replacement project.

City Councilor Timothy McGlothlin remembers the Dog River Pipeline as “one of the leading items on the agenda” when I started as a councilor in 2009. “I am very pleased to see the current progress along with the anticipated completion date within reach,” he said.

“When I visited the reservoir many years ago, the lake was half full and never reached capacity because an estimated 1 million gallons of water a day was leaking from the underground pipe. At the time, it seemed as if replacing an obsolete pipe buried underground for just over 3 miles was a simple task,” he said, but that didn’t take into account federal and state regulations, Native American treaties and various interest groups.

A new pipe has been a long time coming, but will be of significant value to the city’s residents, McGlothlin said.

“Water is the lifeblood of any city,” McGlothlin said. “Without it, the quality of life will diminish and growth will be nearly impossible. The need for more expensive subterranean water will be reduced and an adequate supply of pristine mountain water will help our community continue to thrive and grow well into the next century.

“The completion of the dog river project will ensure a consistent supply of water well beyond our lifetimes,” he added.

Early design reports are already coming in, Anderson said, and the project appears to be on track for the 2023 completion date.

“It’s fantastic and gratifying to see the project moving forward toward its completion,” Anderson said.