Wary eye on dwindling water reserves

Ashland Daily Tidings

Recent rains have not diminished drought concerns in Ashland and throughout the state.

"The majority of Oregon is in dire shape," Travis Kelly, Jackson County watermaster, said at a "Drought Summit" on Tuesday in Ashland. "The Owyhee Reservoir, the biggest one in the state, is empty. Most of our reservoirs will be drawn very low by the end of the water year (which runs to October)."

The City of Ashland, Katalyst, Inc. and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce hosted the summit in Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union.

Kelly concluded his presentation by reminding residents that the rest of the summer is set to be very hot and very dry. 

"Water is our most precious resource," said Robert Coffan, principle hydrologist for Katalyst. "When it gets scarce, it becomes a little controversial. 

"We want people, not to sit in their own office or home, but to come together and share their knowledge and experience."

The Stevenson Union's Rogue River Room had many informative displays set up for local groups — such as the Chamber of Commerce, SOU and Ashland Fire & Rescue — to interact with Ashland residents and discuss how they are reacting to the drought. 

SOU's Facilities Supervisor, Mike Oxendine, was on hand to discuss the university's conservation efforts as a large entity water user. 

"We've made around $100,000 worth of irrigation upgrades," Oxendine said. "We're committed to reducing our irrigation use by 30 percent this year."

The university has invested in a Baseline Irrigation Solutions project that is designed to evaluate how much and where water is used and can automatically adjust watering times according to soil requirements and environmental conditions. 

While many of these programs were set prior to the drought, Oxendine said that this summer put more pressure to get these projects completed. 

"This summer was definitely a kick in the pants," he said. "We shut down irrigation points that we wouldn't have in previous years."

"The drought really helped us take a critical eye to the projects," added facilities employee Roxane Beigel Coryell.

A panel of experts delivered presentations on topics of what the drought situation is, what residents need to know to get through the summer and how they can conserve water.

Ashlanders cut use

City Administrator Dave Kanner then discussed Ashland's drought status. He began by commending Ashland residents on their conservative use of water this summer.

"It's been one of the most remarkable responses to action I've seen in my 25 years of city administration," he said. "Thank you, Ashland."

Kanner reminded residents that, although residents have done well with their water use and Reeder Reservoir has been near full all summer, it's important to maintain a dialogue about drought as that could all change. 

"There are still two hot months left," he said. "The creek has slowed to a tickle. There will probably be next to nothing flowing in by the end of the summer."

The city is keeping a close eye on the reservoir levels, Kanner says. Curtailment is still a possibility if reservoir levels drop below the necessary capacity needed to get through the summer. The reservoir is usually drawn down to 80 percent capacity by August.

If the city implements curtailment, it would implement the stage three curtailment, as Ashland's current water use is equivalent to stage two curtailment. In stage three curtailment, water use over 1,800 cubic feet would be billed at four times the normal rate. That level of use is approximately twice the average water customer's winter use.

"It's not something we take lightly," Kanner said. "Curtailment would need a very thoughtful approach." 

Kanner believes that curtailment would take approximately one week to be implemented if declared.

Julie Smitherman, water conservation specialist for the city, then discussed the water conservation programs available to residents. 

"Conservation preserves the environment and can help save you money," she said. "But the most logical reason to conserve is because it's the right thing to do. It's our most precious resource and we shouldn't take it for granted."

Along with general habit changes such as taking shorter showers and lowering irrigation use, Smitherman discussed more permanent changes like the city's lawn replacement program or rebate programs for installing more efficient toilets and washers. Ashland water customers also can pick up low-flow shower heads, ground moisture meters and more items to fine tune their water use for free at the Community Development Building, 51 Winburn Way.

For more information about current drought conditions and water conservation programs, visit www.ashland.or.us/drought2014 or www.ashlandsaveswater.org.


Email reporter Ian Hand at ihand@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IanHand_DT.

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