The city of Ashland likely will begin water curtailment early in the summer and is urging residents to plan ahead for restricted water supplies, city officials announced this week.
Ashland last initiated water curtailment because of drought in 2009, when mandatory conservation measures went into effect in August. In May of that year, snowpack in the Ashland watershed measured 41 inches.
This month, the snowpack stands at just 9 inches, said City Administrator Dave Kanner.
"We've never had such a low snowpack," he said.
The timing for the start of curtailment depends on a range of factors, including the weather and customers' water use, Kanner said.
Curtailment could begin as early as June 1, he said.
"It depends on how good a job people do conserving water," Kanner said.
Curtailment will begin when the amount of water used by customers exceeds the amount of water flowing from the Ashland watershed into Reeder Reservoir, city officials said.
During hot summer months, 2 million gallons of water or less flows into the reservoir per day, but customers use as much as 7 million gallons per day. Most of that is used on outdoor watering, city officials said.
Kanner said most people begin watering their lawns and landscaping too early and use too much water.
City officials are advising people not to plant annuals or undertake major landscaping projects. The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department will not plant trees, shrubs or annuals because of the drought conditions and will delay the start of irrigation on city-owned property for as long as possible.
Kanner said people will have to decide for themselves whether to plant gardens.
"I certainly wouldn't tell someone, 'Don't plant a garden,'" he said. "But we can't guarantee you'll be able to water come September."
Residents are first asked to conserve water on a voluntary basis, but mandatory curtailment kicks in as water supplies are depleted.
During the first three of four stages of mandatory curtailment, people who use water above certain thresholds will be charged three times the regular rate for the excess water use.
The charges spike to 10 times the usual amount for excess water use in stage four of mandatory curtailment.
No outdoor watering is allowed during stage four. Ashland has never gone to that stage before, Kanner said.
If a customer exceeds the maximum allowed volume for more than one billing period, the city may install a flow-restricting device at the water meter. Before normal service will be restored, the customer must pay a $100 flow restrictor installation and removal charge, according to the Ashland Municipal Code.
Water service can be cut off to customers who knowingly and willingly violate water curtailment, according to the code.
Meanwhile, Ashland is in the midst of planning construction of the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water pipeline to bring Medford water to Ashland. The line already extends to Talent.
City officials hope the TAP project will be finished by mid-August.
Kanner said TAP water will be used only for emergencies if water from the Ashland watershed and the Talent Irrigation District is not sufficient to meet the community's needs.
Talent Irrigation District water is not only used for irrigation, but is also treated to serve as a secondary potable water source for Ashland.
Kanner said residents shouldn't plan on the city turning on the TAP pipeline to save gardens.
"It would not be prudent to plan on having TAP water for gardens," Kanner said.
The Talent Irrigation District has said it will turn off irrigation water by mid-September.
During the 2009 drought and water curtailment, rain returned in October, city officials said.
Ashland offers a wide variety of water conservation programs, incentives and tips, as well as free irrigation system evaluations, low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and other tools for residents. Learn more at www.ashland.or.us/conserve. For more information on water-wise landscaping, visit www.ashlandsaveswater.org/.