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Resolution sought between subdivision, water commission

One rural subdivision's request to tap into Medford's water system could open the floodgates for others, city officials fear.

But they've agreed to meet with residents of the Westwood subdivision outside Central Point in hopes of resolving a conflict that reaches all the way to the state Legislature.

We're sort of trying to get things organized to see where we stand, said Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler. It's a more complex system than just having a plumber come out and hook up a line.

But the Medford Water Commission says putting in distribution lines to the subdivision off Ross Lane opens a Pandora's box of other requests from homeowners with low-yield wells.

Commission Manager Larry Rains said connecting the subdivision to the system and bringing it up to current standards with fire hydrants would cost about &

36;1.6 million. The Westwood water district has said it would pay for distribution lines and has completed preliminary measures for reserving water space in Lost Creek Lake.

— Rains said one subdivision won't dry up the water supply. But an unknown number of subdivisions needing service around the county would make it difficult to plan transmission lines and budget for the future.

He said the commission turns down roughly eight to 10 requests for service every year from individuals and groups outside the urban growth boundary.

The Medford Water Commission was nearly forced to provide water to Westwood with a legislative bill introduced in May by Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who represents Westwood's district. The bill was withdrawn after Wheeler sent Richardson a letter suggesting a good faith meeting between both sides.

Wheeler said this meeting, the date for which has not been set, will address only the Westwood subdivision's request, not others that have come before the water commission in recent years.

For example, residents near Surrey Drive haul water in the summer to fill holding tanks despite requests in 2002 to tap into the nearby Medford Water Commission two-million-gallon water storage tank.

The water commission supply comes from Big Butte Springs near Butte Falls, which was tapped in 1927. The springs, once considered limitless, reached its supply maximum, and in 1968 the commission began supplementing with treated water from the Rogue River during high-water-use summer months.

Westwood subdivision, built in the 1950s, consists of half-acre to one-acre lots. The rural development, located between Medford, Central Point and Jacksonville, relies on wells. Once plentiful, the wells' supply has been diminished over the years by changes in the ground water.

Lou Hannum, Medford Water Commission board member and former Medford mayor, said the commission used to provide water to districts outside of the city. But once it had to start pulling water from the river, the board determined it could only provide surplus water to other customers. And there's no surplus.

It has nothing to do with whether we're sorry for the people up there or not, sure we are, but we're providing water for municipalities, he said.

Trent Nistler, spokesman for the Westwood Subdivision Water District, said the subdivision, made up of more than 70 residents, is in a terrible bind.

I don't want to be one of these people that is standing in the shower with my head lathered up and the water stops, said Nistler. He said the water district is not even asking for water, only distribution lines to deliver water. It is pursuing obtaining its own water rights from the Rogue River.Max Dalton, a Westwood resident since 1996, said he gave in about three years ago and put &

36;8,000 into his own water truck. He said in the summer months, he makes daily trips into town, and fills up his truck tank for about &


I mainly haul for my yard out here, trying to keep it green, he said, adding that it's just the hot summer months when well supplies decline.

He said those who have tried digging deeper wells hit saltwater.

And would he like to see Medford water come in?

Oh my God, yes. I'm a slave to this place.

Ray Neumann has lived in Westwood since 1958. He said he has sufficient water ' he's located on the wetter end of the subdivision. In fact, he waters his lawn every day during the summer. He said he supports pursuing service from the water commission.

I'd like to see it because the property (value) around here would go up a lot, he said.

But not all residents support the idea of tapping into the municipal system.

Rich DiVita said he thinks there's a responsibility of the residents to try some new measures.

There's not a good conservation ethic that's going on out there, he said, adding that residents could cut back on the large lawns and swimming pools for a start.

That's part of a neighborhood's responsibility to examine how efficiently water is used, he said.

But Nistler said he's glad that the neighborhood's longtime quest for a reliable water source may be coming to an end and thinks an agreement can be reached at the table.

I don't know why it got so adversarial, it didn't need to be, he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail Resolution sought between subdivision, water commission"mlanders@mailtribune.com.