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The image on the left is of the current Ashland Canal and the image on the right is an artistic representation of what the canal would look like once piped over. Photo taken from the City of Ashland's website

City: 'Do nothing' not an option for canal

Ashland officials spent a good chunk of Monday's City Council meeting assuaging concerns about a proposal to pipe a section of the Talent Irrigation Ditch canal in town.

The seven who spoke before the council echoed concerns raised in a community meeting of 100 people Thursday in which homeowners questioned the cost and overall efficiency of the project, potential diminishing of property values and aesthetics, and impact on vegetation and wildlife.

City Conservation Analyst Julie Smitherman said the canal loses about 62 million gallons of water per irrigation season, which is enough to supply the city of Ashland with water for a month and a half in the winter or provide summer irrigation to an additional 800 Ashland homes.

Testing conducted by Adkins Engineering and Surveying showed that the canal is losing about 23 percent of its water through seepage (21 percent) and evaporation (2 percent).

Public Works Director Paula Brown said that equates to about $10,000 worth of purchased water that could be diverted to new irrigation customers.

She said increasing the number of irrigation customers would help conserve water because that would be fewer Ashland water customers using treated water for irrigation purposes, which would ultimately save resources.

“Wouldn’t it be better to use irrigation water for irrigation instead of pumping it, treating it and sending it back to town?” Brown asked. “That’s the right water for the right use.”

Additionally, piping the canal likely would decrease the amount of E. coli bacteria in the water, which is sometimes used to supplement drinking water in years of low supply. It also flows into Ashland Creek, which is home to native salmon and steelhead.

“Ashland Creek routinely exceeds the State’s maximums for E. coli bacteria,” according to the city website.

Brown explained the various options to improve the two-mile stretch of canal that runs from Starlite Place to Terrace Street.

“Those options include two piping alternatives, one lining alternative and one that we call ‘do nothing,’ which really we can’t do,” Brown said. “We can’t sit back and do nothing.”

The canal is in dire need of replacement or renovation. It was originally built in the early 1920s and has received routine maintenance with some small renovation.

“We’ve not done due diligence to the canal,” Brown said. “We need to do more.”

Alternative one consists of piping the entire 10,700 feet with 24-inch pipe at a cost of about $3.1 million, Senior Project Manager Kevin Caldwell said. Staff has recommended this option.

The second alternative is to replace the open canal with new pipe and put a liner in existing sections, which would cost around $4 million. The third option is to replace existing concrete liner and rehab the already piped sections, which would cost around $2.4 million.

The fourth option — to do nothing — costs about $50,000 a year for routine maintenance, Caldwell said.

“The situation the canal is in right now, it’s ready to fail,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said there are state grants the project should qualify for. The city currently has a $1.3 million loan for the project.

“Piping is best, lining is a must,” Brown said. “Every irrigation district says that’s (piping) the wave of the future.”

If the project moves forward, construction would begin in fall 2020 and last two winters to not disrupt the irrigation season.

The council is set to decide on an option at its Tuesday, March 5, meeting.

For more information and to sign up for notifications on the project, visit Ashland.or.us/ashlandcanal.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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