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The greatest good for the greatest number

The Ashland City Council is poised to make a decision that will have enduring consequences for the next 100 years. Our Ashland Canal has been and continues to be an indispensable transport structure bringing drinking water to our city. It needs fixing. It is contingent upon this council to preserve this conveyance for generations to come in the most durable and cost-effective method possible.

Of the several credible proposals put forth by the city of Ashland engineering staff, there is only one proposal that withstands the scrutiny of reputable engineering, budget rigor, civic equity and climate change adaptation. Underground piping the entire 2-mile section is the best and most responsible choice. Here is why:

We are losing significant amounts of valuable water every year (over 62 million gallons by some professional estimates). This is water that we have an enduring legal right to, we pay for and that we are squandering. The majority of loss is through canal seepage.

Rehabilitating our canal is an essential part of the adopted City of Ashland 2012 Water Master Plan that specifically recommends “piping” the entire 2-mile section.

The recently adopted, by ordinance, Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP), specifically mandates: “Maximize conservation of water and energy.”

The piping of water canals is being accomplished all over the West and it is irresponsible for Ashland to do otherwise. Let us walk the talk of our values.

This project is not a Public Works self-serving project. Piping the entire canal has been unequivocally and officially recommended by three different citizen advisory groups including the Conservation Commission.

This project has been exhaustively and thoroughly vetted. The city has held four community meetings, five council meetings, a listening session, three Ashland Canal Advisory Group meetings, numerous “backyard visits,” phone calls, and meetings with individuals. A voluminous record of professional study and publicly available documentation has supported all of this work.

Piping the entire canal will accomplish the following:

  • It is a complete fix. It is not a patchwork quilt of liners, coatings, fiberglass, various concretes, shotcretes, and different pipe diameters.
  • It completely eliminates both seepage and evaporation loss.
  • It is, in the long term, the least expensive by over $1 million dollars.
  • It is 100 percent fundable through System Development Charges and Water Fund Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budgeted funds and loans.
  • It has an excellent chance of securing significant grant funding.

While the 86 property owners that abut the canal have benefited from the ambiance of the open canal, they do not have any right or grandfathered claim to this infrastructure or its serendipitously acquired amenities. I am sympathetic to their desires to preserve this idyllic feature. But please consider the following facts:

  • The open canal only has flowing water a maximum of six months in the year. The rest of the year, it is a dry ditch filled with rotting leaves, animal waste, and other contaminants, requiring substantial clean-out every spring.
  • The Ashland Canal trail is not a contiguous and vital part of our trail system. It is choppy at best with a checkerboard of granted easements and blockaded private property. And, at the pleasure of any abutting property owner, the trail could be further truncated.
  • The resulting post-piping maintenance road will be wider, safer and more easily maintained than the existing narrow path.
  • The native trees lining the downside of the canal, that will no longer be the recipient of seasonal watering, will mostly survive ... as the trees that currently grow ABOVE the canal have survived without the friendly benefit of canal seep.
  • Is it really fair for us to select an open canal reclamation project that costs more and does less in order to keep a trail with a six-month open water feature for the enjoyment of some homeowners and some walkers — subsidized by the other 20,000-plus folks that live here and expect good water stewardship?

A group of citizens have proposed a “shotcrete” alternative: In the short term it is cheaper, less intrusive, and maintains the open canal features. However, you get what you pay for. The existing tree roots will continue to raise havoc with the canal substructure, which in many areas is already compromised. The evaporative loss is not addressed. The introduced contamination is not intercepted. And the continuing maintenance costs are significant.

Early leaders in Ashland had the wisdom, fortitude and financial generosity to install a quality infrastructure that has withstood the test of time and utility and served our entire community well. They chose projects that delivered the “greatest good for the greatest number.” We can best thank them by continuing that forward-looking stewardship. Piping the entire canal will secure our municipal drinking water for generations to come and our children will, in turn, thank us.

Stephen Jensen is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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