The public is invited to a community meeting Thursday about a planned $3-plus million project to put 2 miles of an existing open canal carrying irrigation and supplemental drinking water supply into a new pipe.
The first portion of the event is dedicated to an update on the project, including evaluations conducted over the past year on impacts on vegetation, wildlife and an E. coli bacteria analysis. Staff will also present a draft of piping options.
The second portion of the event is set aside for a question and answer period in which staff will gather community feedback to present to the City Council at its Feb. 4 study session.
This proposed project would pipe approximately two miles of the city’s portion of the Ashland Canal between Starlite Place and Terrace Street.
Four piping alternatives have been evaluated, according to Senior Project Manager Kevin Caldwell. The recommendation is that the city replace the entire 2-mile stretch of canal with new 24-inch pipe. The project was estimated to cost slightly less than $3.1 million in 2018. The cost will likely increase slightly when construction begins.
“This alternative has the lowest costs of the piping alternatives we considered, prioritizes water quality and efficiency, replaces all of the outdated system with new materials and results in a robust, low-maintenance water delivery system,” Caldwell said.
The other three alternatives evaluated were to: replace only the current open canal with new pipe and rehabilitate existing piped sections at an estimated cost of $4 million; rehabilitate the existing open canal liner at an estimated cost of $2.4 million; and the “do nothing” alternative, which would eliminate the capital outlay but result in higher yearly costs for maintenance.
The first, preferred alternative would necessitate the removal of an estimated 285 trees; the next two would call for slightly fewer trees to be removed, approximately 260.
The city was awarded a low interest loan of $1.3 million from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for the design and construction. The city will need to determine where the additional funding comes from, but there are several potential grants available “well suited for this project,” Caldwell said.
If the project moves forward, construction would begin in the fall of 2020 and take two winters to complete to avoid interfering with the irrigation season.
The project would help improve water quality in Ashland Creek, into which water left in the canal flows, by protecting the water from animal feces, a common cause of E. coli.
“Ashland Creek routinely exceeds the State’s maximums for E. coli bacteria in the summer months,” according to the city website.
Ashland Canal is used as a supplemental water source in years when water supplies are limited. When the water is contaminated, it requires additional treatment at the water treatment plant. The last time the canal was used as a water source was in 2015, according to a FAQ page on the city website at www.ashland.or.us/ashlandcanal.
The canal is also used for seasonal irrigation water.
The piping project would increase efficiency and conservation of water by encasing the flow and minimizing water loss. The open canal and damaged concrete liner result in water loss estimated at between 23 and 30 percent due to seepage and evaporation. The canal was originally constructed in the early 1920s.
The city’s 2012 water master plan found that piping the canal would save water and ultimately benefit the city.
Caldwell said there are several small sections of the city-owned canal that are piped already, mostly under roads and driveways.
He said these sections don’t have the benefits of improved water quality and conservation because it is such a small portion of the canal that is currently piped and because this work was done many years ago with materials prone to corrosion which will need to be replaced soon.
“This is part of our commitment to delivering a reliable supply of high-quality water to our customers and community for decades to come,” Public Works Director Paula Brown said.
The first phase of the project cost the city a total of $238,047 for preliminary engineering, vegetation analysis and miscellaneous project expenses. The preliminary engineering portion was completed by Adkins Engineering and Surveying and included a survey, site review, wetland determination, preliminary geotechnical study, seepage study, preliminary plans and cost estimates.
Caldwell said the city worked closely with ecological consultants from Siskiyou BioSurvey to understand the environmental impacts of this project. Caldwell said the city will consider their recommendations if the project moves forward, including:
Having an arborist evaluate adjacent trees regularly after construction;
Integrating selective thinning, placing mulch and limiting soil compaction to encourage forest health;
Daily staff monitoring of environmental impacts during construction and regular check-ups years after the project is completed; and
Managing the vegetation in the area after construction to increase wildfire resilience in the area.
Thursday’s meeting is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Southern Oregon University Stevenson Union third floor Gallery Room, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
The City Council is expected to make a decision on the project at its March 5 business meeting.