The city is looking for pubic input on its new underground piping project that will, it says, improve water quality and help minimize water loss in Ashland Canal.

The project, first approved by the City Council in August 2017, is entering its first phase of learning about the creek and soliciting input from the community, Public Works Director Paula Brown said.

This phase includes survey, field work and public outreach at a cost of roughly $192,000, according to a staff report for the council meeting on Jan. 16.

“Because it’s in so many backyards, we feel like we need to know more — and conduct more research — and the outreach will be necessary,” Public Works Director Paula Brown told the council. “We don’t have the in-house power to conduct adequate public input.”

The first forum for residents who will be directly impacted by the projects is scheduled at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, in Stevenson Union Room 319 on the Southern Oregon University campus, according to city water conservation specialist Julie Smitherman.

The Ashland Canal Advisory Group will meet on April 2, and community-wide public input meeting is scheduled on April 18, she added.

“We want to make sure we notify the neighborhood first,” Smitherman said, added the city sent 78 invitations to the first meeting.

The project, proposing to install 10,000 lineal feet of pipe between a monitoring station on Pinecrest Terrace to the Terrace Street pump station, stems from concerns of raw water being contaminated.

“Raw water in an open canal is vulnerable to contamination from a variety of sources,” which could result in increasing in treatment costs and lowering the water quality, the staff report reads.

According to a 2011 study conducted by Rogue Riverkeeper, a program of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, the Ashland Canal is a major contributor of E. coli into Ashland Creek that happens frequently in the summer months.

Ashland Canal plays an important as supplemental potable water source in Ashland water supply, as it delivers roughly 1,369 acre feet of water from Talent Irrigation District annual to the city, staff said. The raw water is pumped and treated to drinking water standards at the City’s Water Treatment Plant in years when water supply is limited. It was most recently used in 2015, according to the staff report.

A series of test in 2009 determined water from Talent Irrigation District was acceptable for use as a raw water supply. But with a number of accessible trails between Tolman Creek Road to the canal, fecal waste makes its way into the water and causes the increase in E. coli concentration in Ashland Creek, the 2011 study shows.

The study recommended a piping project. The city’s Comprehensive Water Master Plan also identified the need to pipe the canal in 2012.

The piping project will also help minimizing water losses from seepage and evaporation, staff report reads. A conservation specialist said Ashland Creek lost as much as 30 percent of its water without piping.

The council approved a budget of $1,452,000 for contracted service through System Development Charges in August 2017. Other expenses for the project will be reimbursed through a low interest — at 1 percent — loan of $1.3 million from Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water State Revolving Fund, according to minutes of the council meeting on Aug. 1, 2017.

The project is expected to begin construction during the winter of 2020, when the water source is shut off. The trail along Ashland Canal is a popular jogging and walking path for locals.

Phase one of the project, conducted by Adkins Consulting Engineering, is set to complete in 11 months, Brown said. Public Works will come back to the council for further approval before moving to the next phase, she added.

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.