The snowy egret, great blue heron and a family of otters that now share a city pond could see their home become part of an effort to improve water quality and salmon habitat in Ashland Creek without ever knowing it.
City engineers are considering whether to stop pumping treated effluent from the water-treatment plant directly into Ashland Creek and instead run it down an old creek side-channel and through the nearby Ashland Pond on city park land before routing it directly into Bear Creek.
The design is similar to the Oregon Garden near Salem and the "Talking Waters" in Albany, two other locales where treated effluent is cooled in what amounts to natural filtration systems open to the public.
By doing so, the pond will help cool the treated water enough to reduce its negative impact on Bear Creek's wild salmon and steelhead population plagued by warm water temperatures.
Bypassing the creek will also mean Ashland Creek instantly would have some of the most attractive cool-water habitat for wild salmon that make their way up Bear Creek.
"It will make it easier for chinook salmon to get all the way to Lithia Park," says Scott Fleury, Ashland's engineering services manager.
Estimated to cost $800,000, the channel and pond system is one of three possible ways the city can meet its required effluent-cooling targets while also solving salmon-habitat issues, officials say.
Other design possibilities include running the treated water through a nearby wetland for similar results or have it flow through a terraced wetland built near the dog park, Fleury says.
Engineers expect to study the various options and recommend a design to the Ashland City Council sometime in the fall, Fleury says.
Though commonly called Ashland Pond, the 1-acre pond is known technically known as Jones and Bryant Reservoir. It was authorized in 1971 as a recreation site just downstream from Ashland Creek's confluence with Bear Creek.
It was created by the construction of a clay and gravel berm and created for swimming, boating and fishing, according to its Oregon Water Resources Commission authorizing document.
As is, the pond is known to trap juvenile salmon and steelhead that swim into it from Ashland Creek through what for decades was an unscreened diversion, said Dan VanDyke, Rogue District fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Infant salmon and steelhead that swim in are virtually trapped there, VanDyke says. The out-flow from the pond to Bear Creek is through a pipe and a fatal 6-foot drop to rocks about 10 feet from Bear Creek's bank.
A temporary screen now keeps Ashland Creek fish out of the pond, VanDyke says.
Possible fish-friendly designs could include installing a fish ladder on the pond's out-flow, VanDyke says.
Historically, Ashland Creek likely was the main source of cold water in the Bear Creek Basin, VanDyke says. Getting the effluent out of the creek would give it a chance to reclaim that role.
However, at times the treated water represents more than two-thirds of the flows in lower Ashland Creek, VanDyke says. Some of that would be offset by no longer diverting water out of Ashland Creek and into the pond.
Since the pond is filled by Ashland Creek, effluent already makes up much of the flow into it, says Jon Gasik, from the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The water is treated to a point where it's suitable for the critters that already use the pond while providing benefits elsewhere.
"It's got all kinds of positive opportunities," Gasik says.
"The pond's still going to be there, but it will be used as part of the system," Gasik says. "It's essentially going to be a wetland park. That's a different vision than a sewer system."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.