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Photo by Larry Stauth Jr. A pedestrian walks along Park Street, where it crosses the Ashland Canal in March.

Residents question piping irrigation canal

Some residents whose backyards face the Ashland Canal are questioning the city’s plan to pipe the water to improve quality and avoid water loss, saying they enjoy living near the running water.

The canal carries the city’s seasonal irrigation water of roughly 1,369 acre feet from the Talent Irrigation District between April and October. Its water was last pumped to the city’s water treatment plant for public consumption during a drought season in 2015, staff said.

The Ashland City Council approved a plan in August 2017 to pipe roughly 10,000 lineal feet of the front section of the canal that runs along 78 homes in Ashland to improve the water quality and reduce water contamination, according to meeting’s minutes.

The project also would minimize water loss that occurs through seepage and evaporation, which has been estimated at 30 percent, according to city Water Conservation Specialist Julie Smitherman.

The project is at its first phase — preliminary design and collecting feedback. Community members are invited to a public input meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. April 18 at the Arena Room in the Stevenson Union at Southern Oregon University, according to the city’s website. It will be the second community meeting about the project.

In March, the Public Works Department invited 78 families who live along the water to a forum. Roughly 30 people attended the afternoon gathering.

Many questions and concerns were raised at the meeting — maintaining existing trails, ensuring privacy to people’s backyards, allowing construction easement, addressing wildlife issues around the water, and keeping the canal as is.

“I don’t understand the importance of saving the 30 percent water loss,” said Beth Martin, who has lived by the water for 48 years. “The water is going into the atmosphere, making the area more pleasant. … People love being around water in the summer, and this is one of the things will make the neighborhood not as nice.”

Staff asked residents to pick their top priorities for the project, and keeping open water was in the top three.

A 2011 water contamination study conducted by Rogue Riverkeeper, a program of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, recommended a piping project to prevent contamination entering Ashland Canal, which has been a major contributor of E. coli into Ashland Creek in summer months.

The city’s 2012 Comprehensive Water Master Plan also identified the same need.

Public Works Director Paula Brown said the piping project is “the best solution the city has” from a standpoint of saving water and increasing safety.

“As city employees, it’s our responsibility to ensure the quality of our water and make sure we have adequate infrastructure,” Smitherman said at the meeting, adding the 30 percent water loss from Ashland Canal is equivalent to the amount of water to fill 119 Olympic-sized pools.

“Water is one of Ashland most precious resources,” she said. “And the city shouldn’t waste water knowingly.”

The council approved a budget of $1.452 million for the project’s contracted services through system development charges in August 2017. Other expenses for the project will be reimbursed through a low interest — 1 percent — loan of $1.3 million from Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water State Revolving Fund, according to minutes of the council meeting on Aug. 1, 2017.

The current phase will continue throughout this year, Smitherman said. The team is also encouraging residents who live along the canal to contact Public Works for an individual site visit during the current process to work out particular needs or concerns, she said.

The field work is expected to wrap up in early July, staff said. Construction, which will only happen in the irrigation off-season, won’t start until late 2019 or early 2020.

The city has a webpage for the project at http://ow.ly/sicQ30juvSM.

—Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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