City seeks more water sources

The city of Ashland is taking steps to help prevent future water shortages and to make mandatory water curtailment measures more fair if they have to be put in place.

Earlier this month, the Ashland City Council unanimously approved a $366,966 contract with Portland-based Carollo Engineers for a comprehensive water supply, conservation and reuse study that will look at a variety of possible water sources for the city.

A $110,000 state grant will help pay for the study. The city could also get another another $58,000 state grant, depending on the state budget situation. Water system charges that have been made on new development will pay for the rest of the cost of the water study, Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught said.

Potential water sources include Talent Irrigation District water, using the city's treated sewage effluent for irrigation to lessen demand on the potable water supply, and continuing on with the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line. That water line could bring Medford water to Ashland, but currently it only extends to Talent.

Ashland faced water curtailment measures in 2001. This year, the city instituted voluntary and then mandatory water curtailment from Aug. 12 to Oct. 23 because not enough Ashland Creek water was flowing into Reeder Reservoir above town.

Faught said the comprehensive study of water sources and uses to be done by Carollo Engineers will take about two years.

In the meantime, the City Council unanimously approved Faught's request to make changes to ensure a more stable water supply, and to see if current water curtailment measures are fair.

To deal with this year's steep drop-off in the water supply stored in Reeder Reservoir, city workers took TID water, treated it, and then sent it out to water customers.

The city will look at using TID water on a more regular basis and supplementing the city's drinking water supply with TID earlier in the season.

Resident Ron Roth said the infrastructure that brings TID water to Ashland is already in place.

"Using the TID water and considering it as part of the supply is a really good idea," Roth said, noting that adding TID to the water supply earlier in the summer could help prevent water curtailment.

Faught said the city needs to spend about $208,200 to install a new pump, move electrical control panels above ground and make other improvements to the city water system and the TID system. He will make the case for the expenditures before the Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee in spring 2010.

Roth said he has a friend who normally has a beautiful garden, but she let it dry out in September rather than use extra water when water curtailment was put in place.

Residents who exceeded the amount they were allowed were charged four times the normal rate.

City of Ashland Water Conservation Analyst Robbin Pearce said the water curtailment ordinance is out of date. It treats everyone the same, regardless of whether they water lawns and landscaping or a garden used for growing food.

She said city officials will look at the water curtailment rules and see if people with gardens should be given a bigger allotment.

Resident Melanie Mindlin, who lives in a co-housing development with 13 homes, said she and her neighbors were upset to suddenly hear that water curtailment measures were going into effect. She said they hadn't been making a particular effort to save water earlier in the summer, and could have been doing so if they had known Ashland's water supply was likely to run low.

Ashland's watershed had a lighter snowpack than usual and summer thundershowers that bring rain missed the town this year.

"I felt like people should have notified people earlier in the year and we could have worked together on the situation," Mindlin said.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said the city posted information on its Web site and contacted the media to ask people to adopt voluntary water conservation measures in August, four weeks before mandatory curtailment measures went into effect. But she said the city needs to find ways to reach more people.

Like other residents, Mindlin also voiced support for increasing water allocations to people who have gardens.

"I'm strongly in support of people growing food. We need to support urban agriculture," she said.

City Councilor David Chapman said residents need more help to understand how much water they are using.

During the water curtailment, some people didn't realize they had used too much until they got their water bills.

"They don't know until a month after that they were using way too much," he said.

Mayor John Stromberg said he checked his water meter during the water curtailment period to monitor his water usage, and recommended others do the same.

The city has an active water conservation program. Residents and businesses can contact Water Conservation Analyst Robbin Pearce at 552-2062 to get help on saving water.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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