Ashland to update its long-term water supply strategy this fall to account for climate change

Ashland City Councilors, from left, Paula Hyatt, Tonya Graham, Shaun Moran, Mayor Julie Akins, Stefani Seffinger, Gina DuQuenne and Stephen Jensen at Monday's study session, along with City Manager Joe Lessard and City Attorney Katrina Brown at right. Drew Fleming photo
May 3, 2022

Talent Irrigation District estimates it has enough water for at least a 30-day season, possibly more

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news 

Ashland City Council, city staff, and the public got a refresher course on Monday on the city’s water supply, where it comes from, and planned updates to its long-term water management plan.

Scott Fleury, director of Public Works for the city of Ashland, presented information on the city’s water supply in a study session Monday night, including plans to update the city’s Water Management & Conservation Plan going forward.

It was the first hybrid virtual and in-person work session the city has held since March 2020, with the council and some senior staff members in the Ashland City Council chamber on East Main Street, while other staff members and the public participating via Zoom and the public viewing over cable television.

The update to the city’s long-term water strategy will consider climate change impacts to Reeder Reservoir, Talent Irrigation District, and the TAP system — Ashland’s three main water sources — in order to “inform better future decisions,” Fleury said.

“We plan to start this process, hopefully in fall of this year, and wrap it up in 2023 with a report,” Fleury said. “This is where we’ll bring back a policy discussion and recommendations for the City Council as far as supply planning and water management of the system.” 

Fleury said the city of Ashland’s water mostly comes from Reeder Reservoir, which is fed by the east and west forks of Ashland Creek and holds 800 acre-feet of water, or 260 million gallons.

Fleury emphasized the importance of investing in its TAP system and TID water rights as opposed to seeking more water storage, which would cost millions of dollars.

“During diminished years of snowpack that feed Reeder Reservoir, we’ve used a target goal for the community of about 4.5 million gallons a day for production and consumption, in order to protect that Reeder Reservoir supply,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is protect that supply for later in the season until we get that later in the season, October, November rainfall that starts to replenish the system and Reeder Reservoir itself.”

Talent Irrigation District supply slightly improved

The city’s secondary source is from Talent Irrigation District. The city holds 1,369 acre-feet of water rights in the TID system, according to Fleury. The water is only available to the city of Ashland during its irrigation season, which this year won’t be until mid-June at the earliest.

“That water is delivered to the city through their canal system from Howard Prairie and Hyatt Lakes, up in the Cascades,” Fleury said.

That water can be pumped to the city’s water treatment plant and delivered for irrigation at Oak Knoll Golf Course and Southern Oregon University. 

“We expect to see a diminished season from those reservoirs,” Fleury said Monday night.

At TID’s board meeting on Tuesday, the news was at least more positive than previous projections of a zero allocation. 

TID is currently 3,088 acre feet below normal levels at this time of the season, with more than 12,000 acre-feet in storage, enough to keep water in the irrigation canal for at least 30 days of the season.

In 2020, TID’s irrigation season lasted through mid-September. In 2021, the season ended July 19. This year, all the district is certain of at this point is that there should be enough water for a 30-day irrigation season. TID Board President Mike Winters believes there’s a chance that the district could have more than 30 days available, but he would prefer to “under-promise and over-deliver” when it comes to making estimates for the season.

Winters said Tuesday morning that the board estimates irrigation could start June 15, but no vote has been taken yet. Board members and staff at TID will watch the weather this month, which is anticipated to be wet, and potentially make a decision in late May or at or before its regular June board meeting.

Winters said the district often struggles to discern the best timing to use the water as there are various groups of growers to accommodate, from grapes and pears to hemp and hay.

“It’s real hard because the hay and cow guys need it more on the front end, and the pear and grape and hemp (growers) … need it more on the back end (of the season),” Winters said.

What Winters does know is that the board doesn’t plan to split up the amount of water like the district did last year when it shut off more than two months early.

For hay farmers, Winters sees the possibility for one to two cuttings under that scenario.

For Ashland, that means the possibility for water from TID use by Oak Knoll Golf Course and Southern Oregon University.

“We’re going to watch the moisture profiles really close,” Winters said.

“There’s so many variables. You can only do the best you can do. It’s a tough standard to meet, with a finite amount of water. Even if we had double the amount of water, we’d be in a lot better position trying to make those decisions.”

TAP system a third water source

The city’s third source of water comes from the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix system, also known as the TAP system, where the city holds rights to upwards of 1,000 acre-feet of stored water in Lost Creek Lake. That water is treated by the Medford Water Commission and delivered through the TAP system from Medford to Phoenix to Talent to Ashland.

“We have the ability to pump 2.13 million gallons a day through our pump station to the city and that source is available to us year-round,” Fleury said, noting it is fully-treated water, which saves the city the cost of treatment. “Currently Lost Creek Lake is at about 70% and we don’t expect to see any sort of diminished service, if we were to utilize the TAP source this season to augment the Reeder (Reservoir) supply.”

Councilor Tonya Graham emphasized that the city of Ashland’s water supply is not tied to Emigrant Lake. Graham asked Fleury how the city could increase community awareness about its water supply and what’s required of them during a drought.

“We will call on them (the public) when we need them to curtail their water use,” Graham said. “If they’re not hearing from us, it doesn’t mean that we’re not on the ball. It means that we don’t need them to take particular action at the moment.”

Fleury said Reeder Reservoir’s 800-acre feet of storage fills up quickly and is “over and above” the amount of water that the community uses daily.

“We don’t have a way to store that excess water in our storage systems … so that’s why we don’t make the request to conserve and reduce water,” Fleury said.

To follow water supply updates for TID, go online to Talent Irrigation District’s website.

To view the full city council work session in its entirety, go online to the city’s archive of council meeting videos.

To learn more about the city’s water supply, go online to https://www.ashland.or.us/SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=428 and https://www.ashlandsaveswater.org.

To view the 128-page staff report on Ashland’s water resources prepared for Monday’s study session, click here.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

May 4 update: Corrected to say Ashland can receive TID water through its water treatment plant, not waste treatment plant.

Share this article

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
Sound and Fury

KSKQ radio

Latest posts

Mental health commitment ordered for serial offender

A local transient with a history of physically and verbally harassing local residents has been deemed unfit to stand trial in a Measure 11 assault case. Mathew David Todd, 39, of Medford, was ordered to undergo mental health and substance abuse evaluation and treatment at the Oregon State Hospital.

Read More >

Explore More...

ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)