Trout stream water

One of the advantages to living in many parts of the American West is getting to drink "trout stream water." Drinking water whose source is clear, clean, cool and in motion is just plain better than water that is muddy, warm, stagnant or algae infested.

Most urban Californians drink Trout Stream Water that is piped hundreds of miles from the Sierras to Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Here in Ashland we are blessed to have a world-class watershed very close to town that is protected by geography, the U.S. Forest Service, the city and caring, involved, informed citizens.

The amount of supply available from the watershed varies on an annual basis due to weather-related factors. First and foremost is snow pack. We did not get a lot this year. The word at Mt. Ashland is January was Juneuary. There was not enough snow to fully open the resort until mid-February.

The other factor that enhances supply is summer rain. This year the Aug. 1 thunderstorm that produced heavy rain and hail in parts of the valley produced very little precipitation in the watershed.

The demand side is also weather influenced. In recent years, until this year, we had a few three- to five-day heat waves with a week or two of pleasant 80-degree days in between heat events. This year it has been mostly non-stop Rogue Valley heat since early July.

Back at the end of March the Mt. Ashland snow pack water content was 66 percent of normal. Some years we have wet Aprils. This year we did not.

At the end of April, the snow pack water content was 55 percent of normal, the lowest in years. In early May we had a few days of very heavy precipitation, some of which fell as snow at higher elevations in the watershed. June was beautiful moderate weather with measurable precipitation several times early in the month.

I called Mike Faught, Ashland's Public Works director, in late June to ask about our water supply. At that time Reeder Reservoir was still full. Supply exceeded demand, so nothing needed to be done. The water was there. It tasted good. There were no restrictions. I then tuned out city water supply issues and went about my daily life.

However, there were warning signals in my daily life that did not register with me in July. The last visible snow pack on Mt. Ashland disappeared several weeks earlier than normal. At my home at 4,000 feet elevation there were messages from Mother Nature. The year-round small creek that flows 20 feet from our house got much lower much earlier than normal. Our well production is the lowest in memory. We don't shower and do laundry at the same time.

I spoke with Mike Faught again sometime in late July. The reservoir was dropping because demand had exceeded incoming water, but it was still more than 75 percent full. There were no plans at that time to use the auxiliary water that is supplied via the Ashland canal and is sourced from Howard Prairie and Hyatt lakes.

I was still not fully aware of the seriousness of the situation until a couple weeks later, when the city asked for voluntary curtailment.

Then the part of my brain that is intrigued by all things water woke up. I made at least 15 phone calls on Aug. 21. The city water department was preparing for possible use of auxiliary water by testing the water and the pumping system, but the decision to use the water had not been made. Meanwhile Reeder Reservoir was down to 65 percent capacity.

Finally, on Aug. 25, when Reeder Reservoir was down to 58 percent, the pump station at the end of the Ashland canal on Terrace Street began pumping water to the treatment plant. Approximately one-third of our water supply was coming from the Ashland Canal on Aug. 27.

A few words about the relative water quality of Ashland canal water and impounded Reeder Reservoir water: People hear about using TID water and have images of the slow-moving brown water that is visible from the road going to Jacksonville. Ashland canal water is trout stream water. Go up to Terrace Street and look for yourself.

On Aug. 25, the Daily Tidings printed an online forum comment from avid1, who doesn't "like drinking TID water, but we do it almost every year." My response to avid1 or anyone who thinks they have been drinking TID water in recent years is: You're misinformed. The auxiliary supply was last used eight years ago in 2001. The odor and taste problems we remember came from impounded Reeder Reservoir water.

Our water quality right now is better because we are using Ashland canal water.

I urge the city water department to use as much Ashland canal water as possible and in future years to begin using this water before the reservoir drops to 58 percent. Perhaps we will discover that the answer to our water supply problem is already here.

Ron Roth has been living, working and drinking water in Ashland since 1976.

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