Flow beside Green Springs Highway is found to be unpotable without treatment; ‘Something happened geologically,’ a state official says
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
The historic water tubs at the Tub Springs State Wayside, which have been a popular water source for generations, are operating again but not as a source of drinking water.
The Oregon Health Authority recently ordered the tubs be closed to public use because of high turbidity. Nathan Seable, the Rogue Management Unit manager for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said public access to water was closed to public use in January because of water quality concerns after concerns from water users.
Seable, who manages state parks in Jackson and Josephine counties, said an analysis by the Oregon Health Authority determined the high turbidity well exceeds safe levels. The water’s classification has been changed from groundwater to surface, which means the water is not fit for drinking without additional analysis and treatment.
Changes in water quality at the spring, according to the health authority, were not a result of operations and maintenance, but are due to unknown causes. To resume potable water service would require treating the water, possibly including, but not limited to enhanced filtration and chlorination. “Something happened geologically that has changed that spring,” Seable said.
As a result, the Oregon Parks has modified the water feature so it continues to flow but not as a drinking source because, Seable said, “We wanted to preserve the experience of watching water run through these historic tubs while also preserving visitor safety.”
The wayside, which is located along Green Springs Highway 66 about 20 miles southeast of Ashland, has been a popular source of drinking water for generations. Seable said people living near the wayside have indicated they are happy to see the water again flowing into the tubs, but he noted, “Certainly there’s been disappointment that it’s not a water source anymore. It’s been a tradition for a long time.”
Among those disappointed is Allen Hallmark, a longtime Rogue Valley resident. “It’s very disheartening that visitors can no longer bring bottles up and get some of that wonderful spring water anymore,” Hallmark said. “I visited there a few months ago with Diane Newell Meyer and was disconcerted by all the warning signs. I’m not up to speed on the county’s plans for Tub Springs or what has caused the outage of spring water there. I’m sure that vandalism is a big concern there as it is everywhere these days. I would love to see it restored to where the public could have access to that pure spring water once more, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”
Vandalism, Seable said, was not a factor.
Before being shut off, the water was tested quarterly for coliform bacteria at the tubs and annually at the spring for nitrate levels and bacteria.
The wayside historically has been a popular water source for passersby along with people who made special trips to collect water in gallon or sometimes much larger containers. Along with the historic tubs, the wayside also has restrooms, a short network of trails, picnic tables and interpretive panels explaining its history.
The wayside’s history, which state parks officials say is significant, dates back to 1846, when a wagon train led by Jesse Applegate traveled from Nevada to far Northern California and Southern Oregon along what became known as the Applegate Trail. Applegate created the trail as an alternative to the “perilous last leg of the Oregon Trail down the treacherous Columbia River” where his son and a nephew drowned. Early settlers traveling the Applegate Trail to Southern Oregon passed within 100 yards of the present-day wayside alongside the scenic highway that links Ashland and Klamath Falls.
An Applegate Trail history marker at the site reads: “Then as now, with streams located in deep ravines, Tub Springs was a welcome source of easily accessible water.”
The name “Tub Springs” refers to the stone tubs that were installed in the 1930s to provide spring water for travelers. State and county officials say the wayside has attracted about 75,000 day-use visitors a year, “some of them water purists who regularly collect the spring water for home use.”
Now, with its closure for public use, history is remaking Tub Springs.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org.