Liquid assets

Ashland shouldn't expect to benefit from Medford Water Commission's investment

The city of Ashland wants to take occasional sips of water from a Talent reservoir without paying the true cost of that water. The Medford Water Commission should politely decline the request.

For decades, Ashland has gotten by with a water system that relies on variable Ashland Creek flows into Reeder Reservoir, supplements it with Talent Irrigation District water during shortages and imposes rationing when it can't meet demand in dry years.

The city has flirted with the idea of connecting to the Medford Water Commission system that already serves Medford, White City, Central Point, Eagle Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent. The commission responded by extending an oversized pipeline to the south edge of Talent, expecting Ashland eventually to connect to it. Ashland has contributed $2 million to this work, but the water commission estimates it has spent $3.7 million to accommodate Ashland's portion of the project.

It would cost Ashland $12.2 million to connect to the main line, known as TAP for Talent-Ashland-Phoenix. City officials are reluctant to commit to that expense, so they've come up with a bargain-basement option: extend a line to a Talent reservoir that would be 8,000 feet shorter than connecting to the main line. Ashland would turn on that line only during water emergencies such as droughts, and would pay some systems development charges only if the water was turned on.

Talent, however, would have to make improvements to the reservoir.

That would be a great deal for Ashland, but not so much for Talent or for the Medford Water Commission.

In the world of large public works projects, $12.2 million is not a huge price to pay to ensure a reliable water supply for years into the future. In fact, Ashland raised water rates last year to start preparing for system upgrades including building a second water treatment plant — for $12 million.

It may be that a new treatment plant makes more sense than connecting to the TAP line. But if Ashland needs an emergency connection to the Talent reservoir, it should pay the real cost of that protection, not expect to benefit from the investment already made by Talent and the Medford Water Commission.

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