The Medford Water Commission on Thursday unanimously rejected the idea of joining surrounding cities who are seeking to delay a $70 million expansion of a water treatment plant.
"As a board we don't belong in a cooperative of this nature," said Lee Fortier, a Water Commission member.
The cities of Talent, Phoenix, Central Point, Eagle Point and Jacksonville want to form the cooperative to look at conservation programs that could cut down on water use and consequently delay expansion plans.
"We just don't see a downside to such cooperation," said Talent Councilor Darby Stricker.
The Water Commission said it already has undertaken many of the conservation programs being looked at by the other cities.
The commission said its primary mission is to supply water to the citizens of Medford.
The Water Commission has been looking at 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.
Phoenix Mayor Jeff Bellah said most of the surrounding cities had done a better job at conservation than Medford.
"It's a fact that you're using a lot more per capita," he said.
But Jason Anderson, Water Commission chair, said he "takes issue" with Bellah's statement because Medford has a different kind of user base with more industrial and commercial customers, which skews the number higher.
On a per capita basis, Medford uses 278 gallons a day. Phoenix uses 128.
However, for residential customers, the gallons used per day averages 120 in Medford and 97 in Phoenix. Medford comes in second highest for residential consumption after Jacksonville's 148.
Bellah said the cities just want a more collaborative relationship with Medford because the cities are collectively the Water Commission's biggest customer, using about 25 percent.
"I can't see why you would be against this valley being more efficient," Bellah said.
Medford Councilor Chris Corcoran also took issue with Bellah. "The largest customer is the city of Medford," he said. "This whole thing is about politics."
Water Commission member John Dailey said there was a lot of politics and "emotional baggage," but he said the commission is always open to suggestions and recommendations from the surrounding cities.
"Nobody wants to build Duff II if we don't need it," he said.
Larry Rains, general manager of the Water Commission, cited a number of reasons why joining the cooperative doesn't make sense.
He said the commission was formed for the citizens of Medford, so its mission sometimes runs counter to the surrounding cities.
He said the surrounding cities and the commission have already run into conflicts.
Joining forces could involve more time and money for the Water Commission.
Rains said the Duff II project will be based on water usage by the city of Medford and surrounding cities. Delays in building the expansion could mean a need to limit water supplies during hot summer months when usage is high.
"Staff feels the status quo makes sense," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.