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Wet spring buoys Ashland’s water report

City of Ashland photo Reeder Reservoir, the main source of Ashland drinking water, is 97% full after spring rain and snow brought welcome relief.

Late spring rain and snow provided an unexpected boost to Ashland’s water outlook going into summer.

Initial projections called for a below-average water year.

When the city’s annual water report was delivered May 3 to Ashland City Council, Public Works Director Scott Fleury projected a continuation of hot weather, low snowpack and skinny streams — conditions that could require Ashland to rely on alternate sources of water, such as Talent Irrigation District or the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix Intertie system.

“The rain in April, in May, it was huge,” Fleury said. “For our systems, for Mount Ashland, it was significant.”

Perched above Lithia Park, just north of the Fairy Ponds, sits Reeder Reservoir, the primary source of Ashland water. Fed by snowmelt that fills Ashland Creek, the reservoir is now 97% full, with a daily inflow of roughly 9 million gallons.

The reservoir is at 100% production, with 3.5 million gallons a day demanded by users, according to the Ashland water usage dashboard, https://gis.ashland.or.us/waterusage.

“If the community is at about 4 million gallons a day, no matter what, we’re going to be fine until the fall rains hit,” Fleury said.

Ashland’s water system cycles with the seasons. As winter snowpack builds on the mountains, it becomes a double-edged sword. High snowpack means runoff to fill the creeks that fill the reservoir, but a heavy snowpack also can raise the high flood risk.

In warm weather, drawdown of the reservoir begins as user demand outpaces the flow into the impoundment. If the water level gets too low, Public Works supplements Ashland’s water with TID or TAP to ensure there is water left in Reeder while the valley waits for autumn rains.

When the snowpack is high and rains are good, Reeder has more than enough water to carry Ashland through until autumn, Fleury said.

Federal regulations require the dam at Reeder Reservoir to be inspected periodically to monitor potential points of weakness. The threshold for failure is low — far below a wall crumbling or enough water for a flood. Regulations define failure as an uncontrolled release of water, Fluery explained. This could be as little as the release of water that happens when stepping into an overfilled bathtub.

The dam is not in top shape, with erosion identified along the embankment on the left abutment of the dam.

“If the dam were to overtop on the left side for an extended duration, that embankment material could potentially be washed out,” Fluery said.

Public Works is in the process of finalizing a design to secure the dam. In the meantime, federal regulators have limited the reservoir’s capacity to 60% during the winter, when flood risk is highest.

“We can’t conserve water (until summer) because the reservoir is so small; we have nowhere to store it,” Fleury said.

While Fleury and other water experts in the valley are more optimistic about this year’s water outlook than they were a few months ago, Gov. Kate Brown declared a drought emergency for Jackson County earlier this year, and the U.S Drought Monitor predicts a hot, dry summer.

“This is all variable, considering the weather and what goes on,” Fleury said.

The city of Ashland offers incentives for people who conserve water.

For those willing to replace a live irrigated lawn with low-water landscaping, the city offers a lawn replacement rebate. Find information at www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=16285

Residents can find suggestions for drought-tolerant plants and water-wise appliances at www.ashlandsaveswater.org/

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.