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ASHLAND, Ore. -- The city of Ashland is beginning its project to replace the Ashland Canal with a pipe to help improve water creek quality. This month begins the preliminary engineering phase where crews are performing survey and field work. The city approved the project back in 2012 as part of Ashland's Water Master Plan.
Ashland city officials say the raw water is routinely contaminated from a variety of sources that have pushed bacteria levels above the state's maximums.
"E. coli, unfortunately we have dealt with that as an issue in Ashland Creek. This canal flows into Ashland Creek," said Water Conservation Specialist Julie Smitherman. "We've taken measures in the past to minimize those contaminants. A lot of issues we've had...has been because of animal waste getting into the canal."
City officials say the 2010 Ashland Creek Bacteria Study found the creek harbors a fluctuating, but high E. Coli level. While the water is mostly used for irrigation, in times of drought, it can be used as the city's drinking water.
"Right now there's a lot of debris and there's a lot of contaminants, and once we pipe that up to the treatment plant, we have to do a lot to make sure that water is appropriate for drinking. So the treatment needs to be more extensive," said Smitherman
The canal borders several homes and a popular hiking path. The city placed animal waste bins around the area to help mitigate the problem but say the bins have done little to improve overall water quality.
Meanwhile the canal's openness means its constant exposure to the elements and roots of nearby plants and trees that are causing the canal to crack and break apart. This means the city is also loosing water.
"We lose approximately 30 percent of the canal water due to evaporation and seepage," said Smitherman. "Piped canals mitigate these losses and conserve a significant portion of this water."
The pipe will run for two miles between Starlight Place and Terrace Street. The surveying is expected to last nearly a year but construction on the pipes won't begin until late 2019 or early 2020. Until then, the city is meeting with locals nearby to address questions and concerns.
There will be a public meeting held on April 18th.