City officials hope residents will continue to curtail their water use despite warm temperatures.
In mid-August, city officials asked for voluntary water curtailment because of low water levels in Reeder Reservoir, which stores the city's drinking water supply in the hills above Lithia Park. The curtailment became mandatory on Aug. 24. People who exceed their alloted water use will be charged four times normal water rates for the excess used.
At the rate water was draining from the reservoir, the reservoir would be at 35 percent capacity on Sept. 23, Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught predicted. Water is hard to treat when the reservoir dips that low.
Now with residents taking action to cut their water use, the reservoir is not likely to be at 35 percent capacity until Nov. 11, Faught said.
"Right now the community has responded to the curtailment. We need to continue that until we get major rains," he said.
The city is also getting 1.3 million gallons of supplemental water daily from the Talent Irrigation District. That untreated water, which comes from Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes, is sent to the city's water treatment plant for treatment before going to residents, Faught said.
Jim Pendleton, TID manager, said he has fielded calls from irrigation customers who are worried that they may not receive water because the city of Ashland is using TID water to supplement the city's water supply.
Pendleton said there is enough water that irrigation customers will not be affected. Howard Prairie Lake was 81 percent full and Hyatt Lake was 73 percent full as of Sunday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported.
Faught said water quality tests showed that TID water didn't have problems with taste, odor, bacteria or other issues and that it could be treated to become part of the city's potable water supply.
Ashland had odor and taste problems with its water in the fall of 2007 because of an algae bloom in Reeder Reservoir.
Faught said Ashland doesn't enter water taste contests as some communities do because getting water to people, not entering contests, has been the priority. However, he said entering a taste contest might be a good idea.
As part of the mandatory water curtailment, a typical house is allowed 897.6 gallons per day, according to the city's Water Curtailment Ordinance.
An average person uses about 100 gallons a day for inside uses such as showering, drinking, washing clothes and dishes, cooking and flushing the toilet, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.
Some residents have asked if there is a way for people with gardens to use extra water without being charged four times the normal amount.
The city does have an exception process in some cases, such as for households with large numbers of people, but currently there is no exception for homes with gardens.
Most households can meet the water curtailment standard by cutting back on outside watering by 50 percent, since outside watering is the largest use for city water, city officials said.
City Water Conservation Analyst Robbin Pearce said people should be able to keep their landscaping, lawns and gardens alive even with water curtailment, unless they have a large area to water.
"I am very supportive of people having gardens, especially in these economic times. I know a lot of people are growing their own," she said.
People only need to sprinkle a total of 1 inch of water in a week to support vegetation because the days are growing shorter and nights are cool, Pearce said.
To find out how much water is coming out of a sprinkler, most garden experts recommend putting out a shallow, flat-bottomed container like a tuna fish can to catch water drops, and then measuring the amount of water.
If a person follows watering advice and still can't meet the water curtailment standard, Pearce said her first choice would be to let the lawn dry out while preserving gardens, landscaping and trees.
"It's certainly a personal preference, but I would let the lawn go," Pearce said.
She noted that the highest priority for potable water is for indoor uses like drinking, bathing and flushing toilets.
Pearce provides on-site consultations for people who want to reduce the amount of water they use. Call 552-2062 for help, or to request an exemption from the mandatory water curtailment rules.
Right water, right use
Meanwhile, the city is planning a two-year study to examine the "right water for the right use." Options include connecting to the Medford water supply by finishing the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line, using TID water to supplement city potable water, reducing the use of potable water for irrigation and reusing the city's treated sewage wastewater. The study will even look at projected impacts of global warming on water supplies, Faught said.
The city's sewage wastewater is treated to a high enough standard that it could be used on plants for human consumption, he said.
Pendleton said the city of Ashland has a water right to TID water dating to the 1920s that equals about the amount of water that Reeder Reservoir can hold. Ashland is also trying to acquire a TID water right that was once held by the city of Talent.
Talent has already connected to Medford's water supply through the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix pipeline.
To preserve potable city of Ashland water, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department is in the midst of testing a new system that will use TID water instead of potable city water to irrigate Lithia Park, Parks Director Don Robertson said.
That system could come on line this fall. At it's maximum capacity, the TID system in Lithia Park could provide 200,000 gallons of water per day, although the park is not likely to use that amount, he said.
"We're really excited. We think it's the right water for the right use," Robertson said.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.