Popular city-owned 22-acre open space beloved as dog walking, bird watching retreat has been construction zone for nearly 14 months
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
A year-plus project at Ashland Pond is almost done and the area is open again for residents — until the weather cools enough to finish the final details of a multi-million dollar Public Works construction project.
Chance Metcalf, project manager of the wastewater treatment plant outflow relocation project with city of Ashland Public Works, walked behind a chain link fence dividing the entrance to the project area from the rest of the wastewater treatment plant Thursday morning.
“I know a lot of people think it’s a pond project, but it’s not,” he said as he walked over a pathway on a long straight mound of bare ground and weeds.
Under the mound is the project — a new pipe that will reroute the plant’s outfall of treated effluent water from Ashland Creek into Bear Creek. In order to create the new system, Ashland Pond had to be drained to build the pipe’s outfall structure and trails were closed for construction, Metcalf said. In the coming months, the new system will undergo a series of tests and, if they are successful, the effluent will be permanently rerouted through the new pipe.
Once the weather cools, the path will be seeded with grass. Other aspects of the project are waiting on the weather too. Some of the heavy machinery isn’t safe to run until fire season is over, he said as he walked closer to where the scars of the Almeda Fire are still visible in the area. Some of this work may close the 22.05 acre open space area again in the coming months, but not for long, he said.
The project was presented to Ashland City Council by then project manager Kaylea Kathol and Public Works Director Scott Fleury on May 23, 2022. Ashland’s Wastewater Treatment Plant needed to relocate the pipe to bring the wastewater plant into compliance with state and federal water quality regulations, according to meeting materials.
Ashland Creek is too shallow and the water moves too slowly to accommodate the outflow of the recently processed, significantly warmer effluent water from the plant. The temperature difference was outside the standards set by the DEQ to protect the fish and ecology of the Bear Creek basin. Ashland City Council voted to approve the project to divert the outflow to deeper and faster moving Bear Creek through a new underground pipe, according to the meeting materials.
Now, a year later, the project is nearing completion. In response to questions about the water level of Ashland Pond, Metcalf pointed to the rising water levels as the project nears completion. Though the pond is now refilling, it may take time to return to prior levels.
Metcalf said he does not know the history of the pond, but he had been told it originally filled extremely slowly. (The pond was originally excavated as a quarry for a local road project in the late 1960s.) While the pond does have water rights to Ashland Creek, it will be hard to know if the flow of the creek will be enough to fill the pond without the additional water from the outflow pipe.
“We’re looking at all kinds of options, but we can’t really tell until the wet season what’s going to happen. … We won’t wait, we’ll find another option,” he said of refilling Ashland Pond.
Metcalf couldn’t speak to the potential environmental impacts of the period of low water levels for the pond, but on Thursday, ducks swam over its surface and birds sang from the nearby vegetation.
Several details of the project were chosen with the local ecology in mind. The outfall structure is designed to prevent fish from venturing into where the warmth of the effluent water could harm them. The project also includes a dedicated flow meter to more accurately measure that the effluent is meeting the DEQ’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit, he said.
The flow meter and an unexpectedly difficult excavation process led to additional costs for the project, he said. The original estimate was $3.6 million, but the final cost was $3.8 million. The project is expected to be completed sometime this fall, Metcalf said.
For more information on the project or to be added to an email list for project updates, send an email to the city Public Works Department at email@example.com.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at firstname.lastname@example.org.