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Reeder drawdown ahead of schedule, TAP running smoothly

Photo courtesy of city of AshlandWater spills over Hosler Dam on Ashland Creek, about 2.8 miles upstream from the Plaza.

ASHLAND — As a result of higher water usage and lower stream flows, Reeder Reservoir drawdown is “slightly outpacing” projected drawdown this season, said Public Works Director Scott Fleury.

Reeder Reservoir was 58.7% full Monday — about three weeks ahead of theoretical drawdown levels for the summer. According to city water usage tracking data, reservoir fullness crossed below the drawdown curve in late July, sending the reservoir into September about 7% less full than projected.

The city requested voluntary water curtailment Aug. 17 to reduce consumption in response to the trend — together with a dip in daytime temperatures, voluntary curtailment resulted in a 300,000-500,000 gallon per day usage cutback compared to July and early August, Fleury said.

Average daily demand during this summer season has exceeded previous years, attributable to the loss of Talent Irrigation District water for users across the Rogue Valley and several days of record-breaking heat, he said.

More than 90% of Jackson County faces “extreme drought” conditions, with an eastern sliver of the county holding under “severe drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Under these conditions, pastures go dry, wildfire activity spikes, planting is delayed and reservoirs drop low.

A lack of spring rain, higher temperatures and more rapid snow melt contributed to low production from the east and west forks of Ashland Creek earlier in the year — comparable to mid- or late-September flows, Fleury said.

Streamflow from the West Fork of Ashland Creek fell 51% below the seasonal average Monday, and 46% below average from the East Fork.

The Talent-Ashland-Phoenix intertie came online July 8, and has since supplied water without any operational issues, Fleury said. On Monday, roughly 40% (1.9 million gallons) of Ashland’s water flowed from TAP — about 230,000 gallons shy of daily supply capacity for the source.

Fleury said TAP’s start date was delayed due to the installation of a new water storage reservoir in Talent.

Prioritizing TAP is part of the city’s drought management plan and serves the dual purpose of protecting the Reeder Reservoir water supply and the city’s water right certification for Lost Creek Reservoir.

About half of the city’s distribution system receives water from TAP in the “Granite Zone,” generally west of Ashland Creek. Fleury said TAP usage will continue until drawdown ceases and the reservoir begins to refill. He expects water usage to continue declining into the fall, as shorter and cooler days reduce irrigation demands.

“The one variable that lingers over the water supply annually is fall rainfall and when can we expect a few rain events to hit the valley,” he said.

Data from previous years indicate near- or slightly above-average precipitation may fall on Southern Oregon this autumn, though likely not enough to relieve drought conditions, according to a seasonal climate forecast compiled by the Oregon departments of agriculture and forestry.

Wildfire threat is slated to persist through September, based on a 1971 mid-month dry period that brought east winds and severe fire danger. In October, “precipitation is expected to climb closer to average but remain mostly on the dry side, especially south and east,” the forecast said.

Fleury said he remains confident in Ashland’s water supply status and plan, so long as “we generally follow along with historic trending through the next month plus,” and continue reducing water usage into the fall.