Five cities have joined forces to push for greater water conservation to delay a $70 million expansion of Medford's water treatment plant.

Five cities have joined forces to push for greater water conservation to delay a $70 million expansion of Medford's water treatment plant.

This is the latest effort by Central Point, Phoenix, Talent, Eagle Point and Jacksonville to tackle the looming issue of a major upgrade at the Robert A. Duff Water Treatment Plant to keep pace with increased water consumption. The expansion, known as Duff II, is expected sometime between 2025 and 2030.

"We'd like to put the Duff II off," Central Point Mayor Hank Williams said. "It's a lot of money."

The cities have asked the Medford Water Commission and the city of Medford to join in their effort.

The Medford Water Commission will discuss the proposal at its 12:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday at Medford City Hall.

In the past, there has been some friction between the city and the Water Commission, which controls the water supply from Big Butte Springs.

In 2011, the five cities balked at paying more for water from Medford.

The Water Commission was set up originally to service the city of Medford but has developed agreements with surrounding cities.

Williams said the cities would like to have a greater say in charting the future of water use in the county.

"If everybody gets together and understands everybody's issues, we'd all get along," he said.

The city of Medford obtained water rights to Big Butte Springs in 1915. The Water Commission was organized in 1919 to build a $1 million pipeline to bring water from Big Butte Springs to the 10,000 residents of Medford. The pipeline was built in 1926 and 1927.

The springs supply 26 million gallons a day, supplemented in the summer by the Rogue River. As the cities get bigger, the reliance on the Rogue will increase and the treatment plant will have to be enlarged.

In 2011, the cities balked at paying higher rates for water from the commission.

General Manager Larry Rains said the Water Commission staff will make its recommendation today as to whether Medford should be part of the coordinated conservation effort.

He said he wouldn't reveal the staff recommendation until the meeting.

Joe Strahl, regional manager for RH2 Engineering, which is working with the cities, said conservation efforts are more effective if communities with shared interests work together.

He said some of the suggested efforts include replacing old toilets that require a lot of water — something the Water Commission has already done.

Also, landscaping that requires less water could replace plants that require lots of water. Increased densities through zoning is another possibility.

Strahl said public education is an important piece of the water conservation effort and works better if all cities are involved.

Strahl said that when he lived in Medford, he took out his lawn and replaced it with more drought-tolerant plants.

"Most strategies do better by communities working together as opposed to each community doing its own thing," he said.

Four of the five cities — Central Point, Talent, Phoenix and Eagle Point — are already using less water per capita than the city of Medford, Strahl said.

Strahl said the five cities are concerned about the cost of the treatment plant and what it might mean to the ratepayers, who are already paying for a surcharge and fees on new construction.

"The hope is to delay the needs for those improvements," Strahl said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.