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It's cool to live in the shadows

Ashland is partnering with the Portland-based non-profit organization The Freshwater Trust to plant trees along Bear Creek to provide shade and cool the creek.

Ashland’s treated wastewater flows into Ashland Creek — which empties into Bear Creek — but at temperatures too high for the fish and other creek creatures, according to Tim Wigington, the Freshwater Trust’s finance director and staff attorney.

Other cities faced with this problem have relied on technological solutions such as electric powered cooling towers. But, he said, by simply planting native shrubbery and trees in areas where it is most needed, shade from the plants will keep the water cool as well as provide habitat. The city of Medford has taken on a similar approach in cooling the waters of the Rogue River.

The state has restructured some of its environmental regulations, resulting in new requirements, including temperature levels. Ashland is due for a permit renewal in 2019, so the city is taking proactive steps by ensuring “shade credits” before the permit is needed.

“They’ve decided to do this before they even have the permit in place,” Wigington said. “It’s real leadership on their part, to say this is the right thing to do and to go after it.”

Essentially, trust employees will determine how much shade needs to be added to lower water temperatures to acceptable levels. They will then research where the most benefit would be gained and secure permission to plant the vegetation on both public and private properties. Using a model used by the state Department of Environmental Quality, the value of the shade can be measured to “trade” in for credits. The credits would allow the city to meet its temperature requirements in a natural way.

Wigington said this approach is more sustainable than other options.

“First, you’re restoring a natural, functioning area to a habitat . Second, if you install a chiller or cooling tower, you’re going to need to run electricity to do so and use quite a bit of fossil fuels,” Wigington said. “Third, the shade areas that we’re creating are creating minimal refuges for the salmon up and down the watershed.”

He said while the overall water temperature in the creek may remain too hot, salmon would be able to move through the area by going from shaded area to shaded area.

Public Works Director Paula Brown said the partnership with TFT is the best option for Ashland and the environment.

The planning phase will last a couple of months before planting begins.

The program is mostly funded by the DEQ’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The City Council awarded this contract to TFT on Sept. 4.

According to a report prepared by Washington-based Skillings Connolly, Inc., certain activities in the life of salmon are triggered by seasonal temperature changes. The report says that fish can tolerate varying swings in temperature due to changing seasons and the changing climate conditions, but “there is a clear connection between rising temperatures in many Northwest streams and reductions in salmonid populations in the same areas.”

The report went on to say: “Numerous studies since 1985 have documented declines in Oregon and Washington salmonid populations where temperature was identified as a contributing factor.”

Brown said planting shading vegetation along the creek banks is one piece in a four-part plan to meet temperature reduction requirements for the wastewater treatment plant. The other pieces include changing the output of the wastewater from Ashland Creek to Bear Creek, creating wetlands and drawing cooler water from the lower depths of Reeder Reservoir.

Alex Johnson, Freshwater Fund director, said in a release that information and experience from the past few years working with Medford will provide insight for Ashland’s project.

“All of these initiatives we’re working on, whether with utilities, government agencies or local businesses, are beginning to build upon one another,” Johnson said. “They all drive toward the same thing: a healthier Rogue (River).”

Medford’s project has blocked 457 million kilocalories per day of heat, or solar, load in the Rogue River. That’s the equivalent of shading 100 Olympic swimming pools. Once Medford’s program is complete, enough trees will be planted along the river and its tributaries to prevent 600 million kilocalories per day of solar load from entering the river basin, according to a press release.

“These trees will filter nutrients, provide more habitat for fish and wildlife, and sequester carbon — all of which are outcomes you wouldn’t get with other options,” said Johnson. “This choice demonstrates Ashland’s true commitment to managing their natural resources in a holistic fashion.”

Wigington said the immediate focus is on Bear Creek, but there may be work on Neil Creek and Emigrant Creek also.

The project will cost $1,262,000, which will come from the city’s wastewater fund and cover the first two phases of the project, according to a staff report. A third phase is scheduled for the 2019-21 biennium.

Ashland is the third local government in Oregon to take this water-cooling approach, after Medford and Washington County.

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

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