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More dish about the ditch

“It’s just a matter of semantics,” so goes the common adage.

But sometimes the simple turn of a phrase, or a misnomer, can lead to misunderstandings with serious implications.

On Oct. 30, KDRV reporter Andryanna Sheppard ran a piece about an Ashland resident, Hiyah Sirah, who was upset that the Talent Irrigation District was applying Roundup to blackberry bushes by the irrigation canal near her organic farm.

Having previously written several articles about the irrigation ditch, I found this news disturbing, given that my sources had told me otherwise. I contacted TID spokesman Jim Pendelton in order to clear up any misconceptions.

To begin with, Jim had recently insisted that I be precise about distinguishing between the portion of the irrigation ditch owned by the city of Ashland (called the Ashland Lateral Canal) and the federally owned Ashland Canal (managed by TID), which conveys water from Greensprings Powerplant to the Lateral Canal. There is good reason for Jim’s insistence.

Part of the ongoing confusion underlying any discussion on the topic is the fact that most of us — be it reporters, city officials or the general public — tend to mistakenly refer to the irrigation canal running across the city’s southern hillside as the “TID” (short for “Talent Irrigation DITCH”).

The actual TID system is part of the greater Bear Creek Valley irrigation system owned by the Bureau of Reclamation covering Ashland, Talent and Phoenix, and consists of several open or piped segments, each bearing a geographically specific name.

When Jim and I first spoke last year, I was told that TID manages only the Ashland Canal up to the city’s limit, which I took to be the official borderline at Tolman Creek Road. In fact, Jim was referring to the edge of the city-owned canal at the intersection of Starlite Place and Pinecrest Terrace, well into Ashland’s residential area. The two canals flow seamlessly into each other, adding to the confusion.

While, in accordance with city policy, neither Jackson County Vector Control nor Ashland Parks and Recreation use pesticides in the vicinity of the Lateral Canal, apparently the Talent Irrigation District has permission to sparingly use herbicides on vegetation along the entire Ashland Canal, including the section that falls within city limits.

Previously, when I asked Jim if TID sprayed pesticides along the canal, he denied it, thinking I was asking if they applied chemicals directly into the water. Jim wrote: “To be clear, TID doesn’t use any aquatic herbicides on its canal system (which generally is the concern of folks). We do, from time to time in the fall after the canals are dewatered and when conditions are right, (good weather, no wind, no rain and before the first hard freeze), use Roundup (glyphosate) to spot spray blackberries that are hard or troublesome to control.”

So, all those yummy blackberries that hikers pick in July along the Ashland Canal are growing on bushes that were subjected to pesticides the previous fall.

Neighboring organic gardens and farms, like the one mentioned in Andryanna Sheppard’s piece, risk exposure to Roundup as well. Fortunately, as Sheppard noted, residents can sign a no spray agreement with TID. To obtain a copy of the form, contact TID at 541-535-1529 or tid@talentid.org .

If the canal’s immediate neighbors are disgruntled about herbicides tainting their gardens, the greater question is whether Ashland residents as a whole need to be concerned about the fact that the canal is a partial source of Ashland’s drinking water. Roundup is now considered a carcinogen. However, the plaintiffs who won lawsuits against Monsanto and Bayer were gardeners, regularly exposed to the product over several years. In theory, Roundup is unstable, and dissipates quickly in water, and should therefore not pose a health risk to our drinking water. But, perhaps, Ashlanders would be wise to have some formal discussions with the TID over its usage.

Just to clarify one more potential point of confusion: at least two other agencies besides TID offer no spray lists to Ashland residents. Readers should make sure they are signing up with the correct agency.

Residents who live along county-maintained streets, and do not want Jackson County Roads to spray pesticides near their property, can go to http://jacksoncountyor.org/roads/Roads/PROGRAMS-SERVICES/Vegetation-Management, or call Jackson County Roads at 541-774-8184.

Residents who flood their hayfields or live near some type of standing water that breeds mosquitoes should sign up for Jackson County Vector Control’s no spray list at http://jcvcd.org/no-spray/.

Please note: all three no spray agreements need to be renewed on an annual basis. Sometimes agencies send out reminders, and other times they don’t, so people need to be on top of their renewal efforts.

The intersection of Starlite Place and Pinecrest Terrace, where the federally owned Ashland Canal becomes the municipally owned Ashland Lateral Canal. Photo by Nina Egert