A Pipe Dream No Longer

Story and photos by Rodger Nichols

A construction crew is ready to take action on a project that has been on the city of The Dalles’ to-do list for years.

One of the biggest projects the city of The Dalles has ever tackled began in mid-July.

Water from Dog River on the eastern foothills of Mount Hood provides more than half of the city’s freshwater supply.

The city of The Dalles has water right from the stream that dates from 1870 when crews hand-dug a ditch to divert its water into the east fork of Mill Creek.

At one point, crews had to dig the diversion ditch more than 50 feet deep to cut through an intervening ridge.

In 1913, workers replaced the ditch with a 3½-mile wooden pipeline. Each section of pipe—made from local old-growth Douglas fir—was 20 feet long, wrapped in wire, and covered with pitch.

The water it brings to Mill Creek is treated in the city’s water treatment plant and impounded behind Crow Creek Dam.

At the diversion point on Dog River, there is a short, concrete partial dam. Most of the Dog River water dives underground into the wooden pipe. The outflow forms a small creek that eventually flows into the east fork of Hood River.

The old wooden pipeline shows a leak.

The 109-year-old wooden pipe has long outlived its usefulness. During peak stream flows, it leaks up to an estimated 1 million gallons a day. That is about to stop.

After decades of preparation, the city has obtained funding and permits from multiple government agencies to replace the pipeline with modern materials.

The city held a groundbreaking ceremony on July 18.

Dave Anderson, The Dalles public works director, says he and the city have been working to replace the wooden pipeline since 1995. The process was complicated because the project and the pipeline were on U.S. Forest Service property, and the project required a lot of permits.

“At the federal level, we’ve gotten involvement and approvals of reviews from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers,” Dave says. “From the state, we’ve had permits and authorizations from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Division of State Lands, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and even the State Historic Preservation Office for those different entities.

“We currently have somewhere over a dozen permits and authorizations related to this project.”

Officials are on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony. From left are The Dalles City Council members Darcy Long, Scott Randall, and Dan Richardson; Mayor Rich Mays; and City Manager Matthew Klebes.

Dave notes the new pipe has a design life of 100 years.

“We’re not going to be back here doing this again for quite a while,” he says.

It will take 2 summer construction seasons to complete the project, due to snowfall and other winter conditions at the project’s elevation. It should be functional by the fall of 2023.

The estimated cost of the project is $13.5 million, plus another $2 million for replacing barriers to fish heading upstream.

The city received a grant of $1 million from Oregon Water Resources and more than $8 million in a combination of low-interest loans and forgivable loans. The balance of the cost of the project is supported by the city’s water utility funds.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Dave noted the number of partners involved in the project.

“Each one of them is important to the success of the project,” he said. “Without their work and support, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Partners include The Dalles City Council, Wasco County Economic Development Commission, and the Port of The Dalles.

A map of the project area. Map courtesy of the Dalles Public Works Department

The city had the foresight to order 13,000 feet of pipe before all the permits were completed so the project could begin as soon as possible. The Port of The Dalles is storing the pipe on its property. The amount is enough for the first year of work.

“Obviously, there’s a benefit to the city to increase the reliability, the resiliency, and the robustness of its water supply,” Dave says. “But we’re also achieving a number of environmental benefits for this project.

“The first, of course, is more efficient use of water by getting rid of the leakage we are currently experiencing, up to a million gallons a day in the spring runoff.

“Second, there’s currently no fish passage or fish-screening systems on this intake, which serves as a barrier to fish passage. There are cutthroat trout in Dog River. We’re going to be installing fish passage to fish-screening systems in conjunction with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s review and approval of those systems. Those are becoming a significant portion of this project.”