A tale of two ponds

Lithia Park has two duck ponds, one clean and one green.

The upper and lower duck ponds in Lithia Park couldn't look more different. The lower duck pond's water is clear enough that the concrete bottom is visible. However, there are no ducks swimming through the water. The ducks have found the upper pond, with its muddy bottom and dark green water, more habitable this summer. Ashland residents visiting the park agree that the differences between the two ponds are easy to notice.

"It's nice and cool up here, and quiet, but we're wondering why it looks so funky," said Pam, a 10-year Ashland resident who declined to give her last name. "It's nice to sit here when it's hot out, but it's green and it kind of has an odor."

The problems with the upper pond are not visible at the lower pond, but there is a trade-off, said Cydne Jensen, a 7-year Ashland resident.

"It's quieter at the upper pond," Jensen said. "You can sit and read. I prefer that one, but (the lower pond) is cleaner and it's nicer."

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department is discussing several different options to solve the problems with the two ponds.

"The ponds are two different animals," said Steve Geis, superintendent of the parks and recreation department.

Geis and the department's director, Don Robertson, have been working with the ponds for years and both agree that each pond has its unique problems. The difference in pond construction also means a big difference in the way the department treats the two situations.

"The lower pond is concrete and the upper pond has a mud bottom," Robertson said. "That means what works in one pond might not work in the other."

Robertson said the lower pond's clean appearance can be attributed to a filtration system put in place last year.

"We're happy with the results," Robertson said. "But, because of the soft bottom [of the upper pond] we're not sure that if we spend the money we will be able to replicate the success."

Geis and Robertson explained that the problems in the upper duck pond result from challenges in moving the water, overfeeding, mixing of different species and "twenty years of duck muck," Robertson said.

The water from the pond used to drain into Ashland Creek and through the sewer system. Due to environmental concern, the Department of Environmental Quality put a stop to the draining of the water from the pond. To fix the color, the parks and recreation department needs to find a way to drain or filter the water; rather than allow it to sit and collect debris.

"We need to find the most effective system," Robertson said. "We're currently evaluating three or four different options."

Among those options are a mechanical system similar to the lower pond's filtration system, creating a series of bioswales, or finding a way of dredging the muck and safely disposing of it.

"We want to do this as naturally as possible," Geis said. "But what we have here is an unnatural environment."

According to Geis and Robertson, the reason for the ducks choosing the green pond over the clear pond results in a lack of food at the lower pond. Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agree.

"Usually in a situation like this you have more ducks at the green pond because that is where the food is," said Brandon Reishus, assistant game-bird biologist for the fish and wildlife department. "The cleaner pond is probably a more sterile environment and therefore has less food."

Reishus said that the upper duck pond may potentially be better for ducks; especially ducklings, unless their is pollution contributing to the source of green water.

Geis and Robertson said they have yet to find any dead animals in the upper pond and they do not believe pollution is one of the causes of the color.

"We are very aware of the public concern," Robertson said. "We are taking every step we can to safely clean up the water. But we probably aren't going to get the water clean this summer."

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