New Big Creek Dam appears to be best choice

The City of Newport is working on a plan to replace this earthen dam, and another just like it, with a single, roller-compacted dam that would be designed to withstand a nearshore earthquake. (News-Times file photo)

It has been probably 20 years since the cities of Newport and Lincoln City entered into an intergovernmental agreement to pursue the idea of developing a regional water supply at Rocky Creek, located on the north side of Cape Foulweather. The idea was that this single source could supply the water needs for much of Lincoln County.

It was a good idea at the time, and there are a number of factors that still make the concept of a regional water supply desirable, but the critical element in making this idea work is widespread support from municipal governments around the county, and that’s where this plan fell apart. Plus, the cost of developing a regional water supply at Rocky Creek has increased significantly since the idea was first debated.

Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel said when he came to Newport around five years ago, there were discussions with Lincoln City about renewing the water rights at Rocky Creek, but at that time, Lincoln City essentially said it was no longer interested. Although Newport filed the required paperwork to keep a Rocky Creek option alive, city officials instead turned their focus toward beefing up the city’s Big Creek Reservoir with a new, concrete dam to replace the two earthen dams that have been in use for many years.

The main idea driving this is the fact that in the event of a nearshore earthquake, it’s pretty much guaranteed that those existing dams will fail. Initially, a failure would likely wipe out many of the homes below the reservoir, and secondly, Newport would be left with no source of drinking water in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Nebel said the proposed roller-compacted dam would still likely sustain damage, but as it’s being designed, “it would not fail,” he said. That means the city would still have a source of drinking water as it picks up the pieces in the aftermath of an earthquake.

That’s not to say the plans for Big Creek Reservoir will come cheap. In fact, the current estimates are that the project will total between $61 and $75 million. That’s something city residents simply can’t afford on their own, which is why the city is trying to secure some outside sources of funding to help pay the bill. “But there’s still going to be a significant local obligation under the best case scenario,” Nebel said.

In addition to ensuring that Newport has a reliable water supply for the long haul, a new, higher dam at Big Creek would also create a larger impound area, collecting more water during the heavy winter rains and thereby lessening the need to draw water from the Siletz River, as is now being done when demand exceeds supply during the drier summer months.

Nebel said, “I think for a whole bunch of reasons … the proposal that we’re working on makes the most sense for the City of Newport. It’s my opinion that (Rocky Creek) is just not a practical solution for Newport to be pursuing at this time.”

Based on the most recent studies of this issue, we have to agree. While we still believe there are a number of positive things that would come from creating a regional water supply, without regional support behind the concept, it simply can’t happen. And the stakes are just too high for Newport to sit back and do nothing. Yes, it will have a significant financial impact on Newport’s residents, but it needs to happen — for our future and the future of generations yet to come.

People who want to learn more about this issue can find information online at saveoursupplynewport.com.

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