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Water for mobile park should be a top priority

Among the many obstacles to rebuilding homes after the Almeda fire, the lack of a reliable water supply is a serious problem — and yet, in the case of the Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park, it should be the easiest to solve.

Whispering Pines, just south of Medford, included 63 homes before the Sept. 8 wildfire. Only 17 survived. But the fire took more than just 46 homes. Three of the park’s six wells were destroyed, and the groundwater was contaminated.

The park’s owners are anxious for people to move back, but they can’t even supply water to the remaining homes, let alone new ones. They are paying to haul in water for the residents who remain.

The most frustrating thing for the owners and the residents who want to return is that the Charlotte Ann Water District, which provides water to that area, has a pipe 15 feet from the park. But Whispering Pines is not part of the water district, and would have to be annexed in to connect.

The park is also outside the urban growth boundaries of both Medford and Phoenix, which complicates matters.

Annexing Whispering Pines into the water district has received votes of approval from the Phoenix City Council and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. The Oregon Health Authority must also take up the request, and then the board of the Medford Water Commission, which supplies water to Charlotte Ann and handles billing for customers served by the district.

The Legislature may also weigh in, after Rep. Pam Marsh has worked to amend a wildfire bill to make it easier for fire victims to connect to a nearby water district.

OHA approval should be a foregone conclusion. The county Health and Human Services Department has said E. coli bacteria has been a continuing problem with the park’s water supply, and the department is also concerned about chemical contamination as a result of the fire. Clearly the problems with the water are a threat to public health.

This is a prime example of a time when removing red tape from a complex regulatory system is called for. The Legislature should streamline the process of tapping into public water systems for survivors of wildfires. Before that, the Oregon Health Authority should waste no time in signing off on the annexation of Whispering Pines into the Charlotte Ann Water District, and the Medford Water Commission should follow suit by giving its approval.