Liquid assets

The Medford Water Commission is not obligated to share authority with cities

Valley cities that contract with the Medford Water Commission are at it again, trying to gain influence on the commission's future expansion plans as though they were more than just paying customers. The commission is right to rebuff such efforts.

The Medford Water Commission dates back to 1922. Three years later, Medford residents approved a bond measure for nearly $1 million — a huge sum at the time — to run an underground pipeline more than 30 miles into the mountains to tap the outflow of Big Butte Springs and ensure ample water supplies to the city in perpetuity. Later, the city built the Robert A. Duff Water Treatment Plant on the Rogue River to supplement the system and accommodate the growing population.

Along way, the commission extended water service to Central Point, Eagle Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent.

Now, the commission is planning to expand the treatment plant. The smaller cities want to form a cooperative to explore conservation measures that they hope could delay the project.

There is nothing wrong with conservation; if the expansion can be delayed, it would save money and avoid disputes over how the cost should be shared. But Water Commission members correctly note they serve the interests of Medford residents, which may be at odds with the interests of Talent or Phoenix or Jacksonville residents. If population growth outstrips the system's capacity, water rationing could be required in the summer months.

Phoenix Mayor Jeff Bellah claimed his town and others had done a better job of conserving water, and that Medford residents used more per capita. In fact, as commissioners pointed out, Medford has more large commercial and industrial water customers, and residential use is very close to that of Phoenix. Medford residential customers actually rank second in water use, behind Jacksonville.

All that is really beside the point. If the valley's growing population is likely to exceed the water system's capacity, the treatment plant must be expanded, sooner or later.

If conservation measures can delay the inevitable, by all means implement them. The Medford Water Commission should be open to those efforts, and should be sure to deal fairly with the smaller cities that are its wholesale customers.

But those cities should not expect the Water Commission to join a "cooperative" giving them equal decision-making authority over a water system that was created through the foresight of Medford civic leaders and paid for by Medford residents.

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