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'Love Your Water' helps Ashlanders conserve

Jackson County isn’t one of the seven Oregon counties currently declared in drought. But that doesn’t mean there’s no issue locally, water conservation specialist Julie Smitherman says, noting Ashland is in a “low supply” year.

That diminished water supply statewide is due to low snowpack and precipitation, which has contributed to low streamflows.

Toss in warming temperatures and the region’s wildfires, and water conservation should be high on the list of priorities for Ashland residents.

“Right now, we’re managing the supply that we have and we’re doing a really great job at that,” Smitherman said. “We don’t feel like we need to implement any aggressive restrictions right now. Our community is so conscientious already. People understand that it’s a limited year.”

Oregon counties on the drought list are Klamath, Grant, Harney, Lake, Baker, Douglas and Wheeler.

A press release sent out by Gov. Kate Brown’s office said, “Forecasted water conditions are not expected to improve, and drought is likely to have significant impacts on agriculture, livestock, natural resources and the local economy.”

The city of Ashland is already an active participant in water conservation, with its “Love Your Water” campaign providing a number of incentives and educational programs.

Those programs include an in-home evaluation. Specialists visit residences and businesses for free and conduct evaluations of indoor and/or outdoor water usage. They’ll even bring free shower heads and faucet aerators that decrease water usage, as well as a moisture meter, and help install them. The meter resembles a turkey thermometer that sticks in the ground and determines how much moisture is in the soil and if the yard needs water.

The specialists can help check for water leaks, answer questions, inspect irrigation systems and essentially make the property as water-efficient as possible. At the end, they’ll write up a detailed report with suggestions to get the best use of the water being used. They’ll also print out a copy of the building’s water usage over the past five years to review with the property owner and create a water guide that explains when and how long to water for the property’s specific needs.

There’s a hotline, 541-552-2057, to call to find out how much to water daily.

Contact Smitherman at 541-552-2062 or Julie.smitherman@ashland.or.us to schedule an evaluation. She said they conduct about three evaluations a day, so an appointment is required.

“I’ve seen people save 50 percent on their water use just from having us come out and helping them program their controllers,” Smitherman said.

She said the best way to conserve water is to start with the irrigation system and to follow some simple guidelines such as mulching garden beds, watering between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. and making sure sprinkler systems are not watering the sidewalk.

Smitherman said that training landscape is important for plant health and can even make plants less prone to drought situations.

“You can train your landscape to need less water starting in the spring,” Smitherman said. “You don’t want to spoil it by giving it too much water because then it starts to expect that throughout the rest of the year.”

The city also provides a water conservation rebate program. The newest program began in June to assist in the purchase of smart irrigation controllers. The controller can be programmed with such details as soil type, plant types and property slope to automatically control the irrigation system and give plants the correct amount of water with the least amount of water usage. If an irrigation evaluation determines that a controller would benefit the property, the first half of the rebate is issued for the purchase and, after a year of use, if water usage decreases by 10 percent or more, the rest of the rebate is issued. For properties with 12 or fewer irrigation systems, the city offers a $200 rebate; for those with more than 12, the rebate amount is increased to $250.

Smitherman said a smart controller costs between $250 and $400.

The city also offers rebates for replacing toilets and washers with high-efficiency appliances and will pay owners $1.25 per square foot of lawn removed, if it is replaced with climate-appropriate plants or sustainable landscaping.

The city has hosted multiple “gray water” workshops within the past year and is hoping to present another in the fall. Gray water is the reuse of previously used water — such as from a washing machine — for irrigation.

“We just want to be able to provide the community with all the information for them to be able to decide if it works for them,” Smitherman said. “We are continuing to see limited water supply years and if there is a concern about how much water we’re using, at least you have that gray water system in place.”

Smitherman said the city saved 4 million gallons last year and 25 million gallons over the past five years.

To view a list of climate-appropriate plants, other water usage tips and information on water-efficient programs and incentives visit ashlandsaveswater.org.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.