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New reservoir will solve Rogue River's water woes

ROGUE RIVER — City officials cringed Tuesday when heavy rains made the Rogue River too muddy for the city water plant to treat and forced the city to rely on backup wells.

Those worries will be a thing of the past by next summer, as work will begin Monday on a 1.2-million-gallon reservoir that will resolve water storage woes and ensure capacity for decades of growth.

Funded by city water improvement funds and a loan from the state's Safe Drinking Water program, the construction portion of the more than $2 million project was awarded this week to Ward-Henshaw Construction of Canby.

For city officials, construction can't happen soon enough.

"With work on Gold Ray Dam (upstream from Rogue River), river turbidity has been up," said John Krawczyk, the city's public works director.

"Particularly with (Tuesday) night with the storms in Medford, the turbidity went way up and we can't treat high turbidity so storage is important to the city. ... We don't have capacity for summer demand going just off the wells."

The city's winter water supply can be managed by a series of wells, while extra water needed in the summer is pulled from the Rogue River.

Storage tanks provide back-up supplies when use is particularly high, for irrigation purposes or summer use, or when the city's river supply has been compromised.

The city has a 250,000 gallon steel tank and a 500,000 gallon cement tank on city-owned property northeast of downtown.

Plans are to replace the smaller steel tank with the 1.2- million-gallon reservoir, which would increase the city's water storage capacity from 750,000 gallons to 1.7 million gallons.

Krawczyk said it was more cost-effective to demolish the 250,000-gallon steel tank and use the existing site and surrounding hillside than to keep the steel tank.

"Steel tanks are high maintenance and it would cost on the order of $100,000 to paint it, plus it's coming of age where we'll need painting inside and out," he said.

"Using the same footprint will save us a lot in excavation into the hillside, which is expensive."

Al Oest, project manager for Ward-Henshaw, said his company estimated the work will take about nine months. The city will keep a close eye on its water supply in the interim.

"Work should be completed by June or July 2011, before next year's peak (demand)," said Krawczyk. "But it's a long enough project that we can't avoid it taking place during part of this or next summer."

He added, "We'll have to just balance everything and make sure we can keep the remaining tank full."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.