ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Viewpoint: The virtues of Ashland’s Lithia Water

A historic photo of the Lithia Springs Fountain.
December 27, 2023

Never mind the smell, it’s good for you — and could make you live longer

By Mahmoud Shelton

Ashland residents shouldn’t need to be reminded about Lithia Water. The city earned a place in the online “Atlas Obscura” simply by virtue of it. The entry on the website claims that the water “was touted as a health tonic since the 1880s (although it wasn’t until 1949 that the scientific community acknowledged the wellness benefit of lithium salts).”

The successful use of these salts in treating bipolar disorder actually has nothing to do with Lithia Waters long being known as “health tonics.” The dosage of lithium required to treat this specific disorder is simply not attainable by drinking Lithia Water, despite Ashland’s being among the three most potent examples on Earth. Unlike the other two — in the spa towns of Saratoga Springs and Karlovy Vary respectively — Ashland’s water is cool and carbonated, and so preeminently palatable.

Unfortunately, too many people — including the author of the Atlas Obscura entry — are deterred by its supposedly bad taste, but for this the city really has itself to blame. By installing the marble fountain on Ashland Plaza in 1927 with its upward flowing spouts, the city condemned every person thereafter to smell its sulfurous gasses before “taking the waters.”

The simple alternative is to put the water into a cup in order for the smell to quickly dissipate, and this is still possible thanks to the faucet alongside the fountain. Before the one on the Plaza, fountains were installed along Ashland Creek and in the Railroad District, and these original fountains were designed to be used with cups. These fountains even allowed the churning soda waters to be appreciated through the glass.

Instead, the marble fountain on the plaza exemplifies poor management of this rarest of resources — and, if the current months-long hiatus in the flow of Lithia Water is any indication, management problems persist. The old slogan, “Ashland Grows while Lithia Flows,” seems to have been forgotten.

Few people are aware that Lithia Park is not casually related to the water, but causally. The park was so named because it was specifically developed to showcase the Lithia Water along Ashland Creek, along with other less celebrated mineral waters, in hopes of developing a spa town after the European model.

It was decided over a century ago to pipe these spring waters into the park from miles away. As a consequence, the developed Lithia Springs complex along Emigrant Creek was neglected and fell into ruin. In 2005, a plea to have the city take the necessary steps to include the site on the National Registry of Historic Places seems to have been ignored. No one is welcome to seek out the waters at the local gun club where they emerge from the underworld.

The word “Lithia” itself has not fared much better, with its most recognizable commercial use having nothing whatsoever to do with healing waters.

Concerning its specific health benefits, virtually nothing is known. However, in the 2014 article “Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?” for The New York Times, Dr. Anna Feis summarizes the growing evidence for lithium’s health benefits, as well as how we have come to underestimate its value.

The history of lithium is long, for it is among the most primordial of elements, the third in the periodic table. These days it is highly sought after, but not for healing. Everyone’s heard of lithium batteries, but why do local health care providers not draw attention to the clinical studies proving lithium’s potency against various causes of mortality? Feis quotes another physician in her article: “If lithium prevents dementia, then we may have overlooked a very simple means of preventing a major public health problem.”

Lithia Waters are clearly the best way to “take a bit of lithium.” Recently a sign was posted on Ashland Plaza claiming that due to elevated levels of another element, barium, daily consumption of Lithia Water is “not recommended.” The city tests water quality diligently, and some years ago a single test indicated elevated barium levels. Every test before and since, however, proves that the barium level in that test was inaccurate. Given the scientific evidence, it now seems that the warning to avoid daily consumption is far from sound medical advice. So bring your cup, ignore the fearmongering sign, and drink deeply of this wonder of the Ashland landscape. You may very well be extending your life.

Ashland resident Mahmoud Shelton is the author of “Ancient Secrets of the Rogue Valley” and other books.

Editor’s note: The city of Ashland says the Oregon Health Authority recently told the city the Lithia Water system meets the definition of a public water system and needs to be regulated as such, and the fountains will remain shut off until those discussions are resolved.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

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

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