‘Water war’: Lebanon talks sense – Hasso Hering


A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

‘Water war’: Lebanon talks sense

Written June 8th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
The Albany-Santiam Canal in Lebanon: Tranquil water despite the fight.

The Albany-Santiam Canal in Lebanon: Tranquil water despite the fight.

In the so-called water war between Albany and Lebanon, water is not the issue. Money is, and even more than money, it’s bull-headedness. So Monday’s offer of a compromise from Lebanon comes as a welcome sign that finally at least one side is cooling down and talking sense.

Water is not the issue at all. As owner of the Albany-Santiam Canal since 1985, Albany has faithfully delivered water to Lebanon with no interruption I know of. It is prepared to continue doing so as long as the South Santiam River flows.

What Albany wants is more money from Lebanon toward the operation and maintenance of the 18-mile canal that serves both towns. Albany also wants Lebanon to pay certain capital expenses. It’s not clear which ones, and Lebanon believes Albany wants it to pay retroactively for part of the $6 million in improvements at the canal’s intake done about 10 years ago in connection with Albany’s hydropower license.

Regardless of which expenses Albany has in mind, a 1986 agreement between the cities says such expenses must be agreed on by both ahead of time. Lebanon says this was not done, so it doesn’t owe more than $8,000 a year it has been paying, certainly not the $1.2 million Albany once demanded.

Things got out of hand last week when Albany demanded that Lebanon at once quit pumping canal water into Cheadle Lake and remove its pump, a truly puzzling demand since Albany had authorized the pump in 2010. It was even more puzzling — and a public relations disaster for Albany — because everyone can see there is absolutely no risk that the Cheadle Lake embankment could become a failing dam, certainly not this summer.

Lebanon responded by changing the locks on some gates and threatening to arrest any trespassers from Albany Public Works.

That’s where things stood when Lebanon publicized its offer of a compromise Monday. Lebanon would pay Albany $125,000 a year as its share of canal costs, plus $8,000 annually toward capital improvements as informally agreed by the respective former public works directors in 2006/7. In return, Albany would support Lebanon in any state and federal permitting processes as it seeks to get off the canal and take water directly from the South Santiam. As for Albany’s complaint that Lebanon uses the canal as a storm sewer for surface runoff, Lebanon is proposing that Albany produce any “historical baseline data” to nail down some facts. Once that is in hand, Lebanon suggests negotiations among all “canal users” to tackle this issue.

“As earlier suggested,” Lebanon City Manager Gary Marks wrote in a letter to Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa, “the formation of a drainage district to manage storm water impacts is likely the simplest solution to equitable cost sharing.”

There’s something else useful Marks wrote: “The residents of Lebanon have made it clear that due to the city of Albany’s repeated demands for capital contribution for the hydropower project and threats of litigation, there is no other choice than to seek water intake options separate from Albany. This step is indeed unfortunate, as both cities have depended on the canal for over a century.”

Exactly. Unfortunate indeed. Take a step back, Lebanon, and give residents the facts: Albany will not be able to charge you for the intake improvements because Lebanon did not give its consent at the time. If Albany goes to court or arbitration on this, it will lose. Albany has faithfully delivered water as required by the contract and common decency. Under a new contract that incorporates the compromise now offered, Lebanon gets the water it needs for $133,000 a year. That’s a better deal than spending millions on a new intake, plus paying annual operating costs forever after that.(hh)

10 responses to “‘Water war’: Lebanon talks sense”

  1. Shelly garrett says:

    As always Hasso…well stated. I have never seen a Mayor act like this.. in such a public way. How can any good come out of these contentious actions? There appears to be a personal motive from Ms. Kanopa….I am sad that she has chosen this path.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      None of this is a “personal” basis via the Mayor. The city council has signed off on the process before any of the letters have gone out back & forth between the Mayor and/or City Manager. I would be very surprised if that was not the case in Lebanon also.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Shelly, in a matter like this, letters are written by lawyers at the direction of the council. All the mayor does is provide her signature, and personal motives don’t enter into it. (hh)

  2. Jim Engel says:

    Goes to show ya…That Police/Fire levy got passed so it must be a slow day on the council. “So let’s pick a fight!” they yawn. Why should Lebanon pay? The canal goes thru their town leaving them for up keep & mostly benefits Albany.

    Here’s an idea. Look for Federal funds. The ditch is already there. Put a pipe in, no need for pumping stations as it’s gravity fed already, cover it over and no problem.

    • Bob Woods says:

      Go back and read other stories and posts. You have no idea about what is going on here. You could not be more off-base.

  3. Wyatt King says:

    Mr. Hering,

    Thank you for the great write up on what is going on in the Lebanon-Albany Canal Dispute. This is a great summary that shows what is going on and where this is going. The only thing I disagree with is your assertion that Lebanon shouldn’t move forward on our own water intake. I feel it is very prudent for Lebanon to get its own, fully controlled, water source. Albany has shown it is willing to try and use force to leverage its ownership of the canal to get what it would like (I’m sure people remember the whole “Let them flood” comment), and Lebanon being in control of its own water will protect the town from any more strong-arming- especially if water becomes a precious resource in the future like I fear it will become.

    Thanks again for the great write up,
    Wyatt King

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Thanks, but if you think about it, Albany has never used its ownership of the canal as leverage to get what it would like. Albany has delivered water even during the years when Lebanon failed to pay anything, let alone any disputed amounts. It is only now that Albany is trying to sound tough, after 30 years of operating the canal and working to improve it and make it last. As for moving ahead with building a new intake at between $8-12 million, and then operating it, ask yourself how that compares to collaborating with Albany on the canal at much less cost. (hh)

      • Wyatt King says:

        Thought about it plenty. I still want Lebanon to move forward. Our own water access that we control is worth far more than even a $20 million bid, even if I do say it myself. I believe that water will become a global scarcity and even within our own region a hotly contested resource. Being in control of our community’s most basic need is smart governance. Removing this point of leverage from Albany frees us to be in better control of our own livelihood and prevents Albany from trying to leverage the canal again- be it in 30 years or 100 years from now. Call me risk adverse, but I’m a firm believer in the aphorism “once bitten, twice shy”.

        On Water Scarcity (forgoing stories about Oregon and California’s own water problems):

  4. russ tripp says:

    Is the big boondoggle generator at 3d & Vine operating every day? 7

    • Hasso Hering says:

      No, it’s not operating now. It is allowed to operate only when the South Santiam River flows at a certain rate or above. Now, with low water in the rives, fish get preference. (hh)


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