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Ashland Canal loses 62 million gallons

The Ashland Canal loses about 62 million gallons of water per irrigation season due to evaporation and seepage.

That's enough water to supply the entire city of bout a month and a half during winter or supply irrigation to an additional 800 properties, city Conservation Analyst Julie Smitherman said at a community meeting Thursday evening at Southern Oregon University.

City staff and partners have recommended the city pipe a 2-mile stretch of the canal from Starlite Place to Terrace Street.

The Ashland Canal is a branch of the Talent Irrigation District system that serves Ashland. Most of the water delivered during irrigation season is stored in Emigrant and Howard Prairie lakes and Hyatt Reservoir.

The crowd of more than 100 Ashland residents couldn’t hold back their questions as city staff and project partners gave a detailed presentation of the preliminary engineering phase.

Mostly, homeowners seemed concerned with the potential for diminishing property values. If the canal is piped, construction for the staff’s recommendation would require the removal of approximately 285 trees and landscaping due to a variety of reasons, such as roots that have grown into the current cement liner.

“If we continue to maintain the canal the way we currently are we would have to remove trees anyway,” Smitherman said.

The other options for the project would require removal of fewer trees, around 260.

Various audience members piped up with concerns of loss of privacy once the trees are removed and fear of erosion.

“We are definitely listening and want to do what’s right by making sure property values aren’t affected,” Smitherman said.

Staff reassured attendees that a decision has not been made yet. The City Council is expected to decide on one of four options March 5 at its business meeting. If the council decides to move the project forward, then the final engineering phase will begin, including an analysis of every home and trail easement backed up to the canal.

Public works has offered free backyard analyses to concerned homeowners. Public works can be contacted at 541-488-5587.

Besides reducing water loss due to leakage and evaporation, another benefit to piping the canal is that it would significantly reduce the amount of E. coli bacteria in the water, which is used to supplement Ashland drinking water in years of low water supply, Smitherman said.

Most recently, TID water has been treated for use as drinking water in 2018, 2015 and 2014.

Robyn Janssen, a Rogue Riverkeeper clean water campaigner, said the nonprofit supports the piping because it emphasizes its core value of improving water quality.

Rogue Riverkeeper performed an initial E. coli bacteria study in 2011 when the nonprofit learned there was an unusual amount of the bacteria in the Ashland Creek. Because the creek is home to native salmon and steelhead, the organization got involved.

They found that the main source of the E. coli was coming in at the canal outfall.

E. coli lives in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and can be contracted through their feces, Janssen said. The open canal attracts animals to it as an easy water source.

The city of Ashland and the Rogue Valley Council of Governments conducted another study this past summer and found that although the amount of E. coli bacteria has reduced significantly, it’s still coming in at the source.

Smitherman said the bacteria grows under sunlight, so if the water is enclosed underground, the bacteria will decrease significantly.

If the project moves forward, construction would begin in the fall of 2020 and take two winter seasons to complete to avoid interfering with the irrigation season.

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

File photoA pedestrian walks along Park Street where it crosses the Ashland Canal.
Photo by Caitlin FowlkesJulie Smitherman address the audience at a public input session for the proposed Ashland Canal (T.I.D.) piping project.