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Mayor John Stromberg (left) shakes hands with Jake Johnstone, the Southwest Region Manager of the Oregon Water Resources Department. Johnstone and Mike Faught (right), former public works director and current OWR commissioner, presented the first place stewardship and conservation award to the city at Monday's study session. Tidings photo by Caitlin Fowlkes

Oregon honors Ashland water conservation program

The city of Ashland tied with Bend for the 2018 First Place Gold award for Best Conservation Program. The award, given by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWR), is for large municipalities and water suppliers that serve more than 1,000.

Jake Johnstone, OWR Southwest region manager, and Mike Faught, former public works director and current OWR commissioner presented the award to Julie Smitherman, Ashland conservation analyst, at Monday’s City Council study session.

Smitherman joined the city’s conservation team in 2012, taking over many ongoing conservation projects, but she’s also implemented some new campaigns over the past few years.

She said since 2013, the city has saved an estimated 30 million gallons of water.

Johnstone said that was a big factor in the decision because of the criteria for the award, which includes:

The percentage of water saved through the program;

The effectiveness and/or creativity of the program; and

The benefit of the program to the community as a whole.

“The program that Ashland has developed has really exemplified those three categories,” Johnstone said.

He noted specifically the lawn replacement program. Ashland citizens can receive a rebate for the removal of live, maintained and irrigated lawn that is replaced with climate appropriate, low-water use landscapes and efficient irrigation systems.

He also noted the educational workshops the city has provided on the use of gray water, which is the reuse of lightly used water, such as from a washing machine, to irrigate landscape, etc. Smitherman said there’s about 17 properties with permits in the area, which is the highest amount of greywater permits in the state.

Lastly, Johnstone commended the “Love Your Water” campaign, which began last year. With this campaign, citizens can call Smitherman at 541-552-2062 to schedule a conservation analyst to conduct a free home or business inspection of indoor and/or outdoor water usage. During and after the inspection, the analyst will recommend ways to conserve water specifically tailored to the home or business. Not to mention, the analyst brings a free reusable tote bag filled with goodies.

“Our calls went up about 20 percent and based on that we’ve saved even more water,” Smitherman said. “People got excited about the bags.”

Smitherman said some of the most successful campaigns include the rebate programs for toilets and washing machines, and the free tools the city gives to Ashland water users.

“We encourage people to come into the community development building (51 Winburn Way) to pick up free showerheads, faucet aerators and soil moisture readers,” Smitherman said.

She said the most successful campaign was probably the “Use Water Wisely” campaign during the 2014-2015 drought.

“When people see those signs, they know what it means to cut back any unwanted waste and to use water more efficiently,” Smitherman said.

Former public works director Faught said he met with the commission last week on the topic of the water situation in the state, or the “lack of water throughout the whole state.”

“Our concern is even for this year. Now, I’m not warning everybody early, but if things would continue the way they are, this could be worse than the 2015 drought,” Faught said.

He said the commission realizes that could easily change if there’s an abundance of rain and snowfall this winter.

“But, the reason, this is so important from the long-term management perspective is that, if indeed we see drought statewide as bad as it could be, these particular communities — Ashland and Bend — that have these robust conservation programs can be a model for other communities too,” Faught said.

Johnstone echoed Faught’s remarks.

“Drought and climate change is a real thing we’re going to have to face, so, when we see municipalities that are exemplifying conservation and looking forward, we like to look at that as a model we can try to encourage other people to look at,” Johnstone said.

Smitherman and Mayor Stromberg both said it is the work of the whole community in recognizing the need to conserve water that makes the program successful.

“I love our community so much, they’re so receptive and conscientious,” Smitherman said. “We’re in this together. Together we can make changes and together we’re going to reduce our water use and make sure that we’re using our resources as efficiently and effectively as we can.”

For more information on water conservation programs in Ashland, visit bit.ly/2QcOsLZ.

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

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