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Drought management plan prioritizes TAP

On April 21, Emigrant Lake was 28% full, compared to 72% at the same time last year. Hyatt Lake and Howard Prairie Lake held less than half as much water compared to last year, at 21% and 10% respectively. (Photo by Andy Atkinson)

ASHLAND — Facing severe reductions in access to Talent Irrigation District water this summer, officials recommend the city of Ashland supplement Reeder Reservoir with flows through the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix intertie.

During a City Council study session Monday, Public Works Director Scott Fleury sought council feedback on a proposed drought management plan that prioritizes tapping TAP during peak water usage.

An accompanying water supply update was part of an annual report on how water supplies are faring, now that key indicator data is available, said City Manager Pro Tem Adam Hanks.

As of April 19, drought disasters have been declared in Klamath, Jackson and Lake counties, and snowpack is melting faster than the historic median rate across the state, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department. More than 83% of the state is experiencing drought conditions. In Jackson County, low streamflows and dry soils contribute to a D2 classification, considered “extreme drought.”

TID water access will start late and finish early this season based on current reservoir volumes in Emigrant Lake, Hyatt Lake and Howard Prairie Lake, Fleury said.

On April 21, Emigrant Lake was 28% full, compared to 72% at the same time last year. Hyatt Lake and Howard Prairie Lake held less than half as much water compared to last year, at 21% and 10% respectively.

In a typical year, TID is available for Ashland from May through October. This year, Fleury said TID will come online in June — or earlier, if sufficient rain falls — and end its season by August. The city will receive 60% of its 769-acre-feet water right and none of its 600-acre-feet right.

“Everyone is getting cut back this season who is a TID customer,” Fleury said. “We won’t have enough water in the TID canal to pump up to the treatment plant to supplement Reeder Reservoir water, which is our general drought management strategy.”

“Since the flows are going to be so low coming into the ditch for the irrigation season, our recommendation is to allow the irrigation customers to use that water all season long while it’s available and not try to shut anything down to pump up to the treatment plant,” he continued.

Through TAP, Ashland has access to a 1,000-acre-foot water right out of Lost Creek Reservoir. TAP supplements Reeder Reservoir supply during drought or emergency conditions and can be accessed year-round, Fleury said. One acre-foot is equivalent to about 325,000 gallons of water.

Starting from a 60% baseline, where Reeder Reservoir rests over the winter season, staff began filling the reservoir again in mid-April due to thin snowpack, warm weather and negligible rainfall this spring, according to council documents. Filling at a rate of 1%-2% per day, the reservoir was 87% full Monday. Once full, water will spill over until drawdown begins in late June or early July, Fleury said.

On May 1, the snow-water equivalent at the Big Red Mountain SNOTEL site on Mount Ashland was 17 inches, representing about three-quarters of the three-year median. The data point serves as a marker for the upcoming irrigation season, Fleury said.

“It’s better than last year at this same time, but nowhere near as good as 2019,” he said.

Supplementing the central water supply with TAP this summer will further certify the city’s right to stored water in Lost Creek Reservoir, Fleury said. To maintain the right, the city must show it is using the water requested, which means pumping about 28-30 million gallons more out of the source than last year to meet a 25% beneficial use claim benchmark, he said.

“The prioritization is appropriate because of the limitations we’re facing with TID, and similarly with regard to the use of TAP, as part of our charter we must make sure we maintain access to those rights,” Councilor Paula Hyatt said in support of the drought management plan.

During the study session, Councilor Gina DuQuenne questioned whether the city had considered expanding Reeder Reservoir’s maximum capacity or using gray water for agricultural uses.

Fleury said past surveys on the reservoir indicated that removing sediment deposition near the dam would not increase storage capacity significantly. In 2010, ideas about raising the dam to increase capacity presented cost and structural integrity concerns, he said. Instead, the city chose to connect to TAP as a redundant supply source.

Preliminary discussions about developing a wastewater reuse system for irrigation have not yielded any actions or official planning, Fleury said. Impediments to furthering the idea included significant planning costs and distance between the wastewater treatment plant and locations that would benefit from such a system. Conservation education programs for small-scale water reuse in the city are available as public resources, he said.

Larger-scale projects would likely apply to agricultural users outside city limits, and would not necessarily offset in-system irrigation needs, Hanks said.

Currently in development, a new “comprehensive water supply dashboard” will offer community members a way to check the status of the Ashland water supply, view daily plant production, rainfall, weather, reservoir capacity and supplemental supply sources in real time, Fleury said. The dashboard will also serve as a data collection center for planning purposes and may become available for community use later in the summer, he said.

“We have been talking internally and are hoping to do the same thing with all of our other enterprises too — electric, wastewater — and have dashboards for all of our utilities, front-facing and on the back,” Hanks said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.