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New TAP pumps bolster Ashland's options

A new pump station approved last week for the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix pipeline could eventually deliver to Ashland up to 3 million gallons of water a day in an emergency.

The TAP project, completed in August, links Ashland to the Medford Water Commission supply through existing systems in Phoenix and Talent, and is intended to provide the city with water in emergencies. Construction of the high-powered pump station, one of two options presented to the Ashland City Council at its Dec. 2 meeting, will come at a cost of more than $1 million.

That's more than $500,000 higher than the alternative option of using existing pumping equipment, which officials said would also have met the original intent of the pipeline. But the city's Water Department said the cheaper option wouldn't allow for future expansion from 2.13 million gallons to 3 million gallons a day.

Councilor Carol Voison, the sole dissenting vote on the pump station issue, had suggested waiting to make a decision until the effects of climate change were more readily apparent.

As of Dec. 2, the Oregon Department of Water Resources considered eastern Jackson County to be in "extreme drought."

"It's the worst on record for the city of Ashland," says City Administrator Dave Kanner. "I would add, though, that the citizens of Ashland really pulled together in conserving water. We got to the end of September with the reservoir basically full."

He says the main concern prompting the desire to have access to more water volume when needed is simply the city's own lack of public water resources.

Unlike the 800-acre Ashland watershed, which has no reserves, the Lost Creek watershed that would help feed the line from Medford has reserve levels set aside specifically for drought years. Without access to that backup supply, the city could find itself in disaster territory.

 "If the (Ashland) reservoir gets too low, you run the risk of a toxic algae bloom," Kanner said. In that case, the city would have to shut down the reservoir completely while the water was treated, which could take several days or longer.

The other issue is the city's water treatment plant, which Kanner said is in a potentially precarious position.

"The treatment plant itself is located in a deep ravine that could make it vulnerable to landslides, to wildfires," he said.

Kanner said the city's water master plan, on which construction of the pipeline was based, did take climate change into account, but looked only 25 years ahead.

"We have no way of knowing what the city's water situation will be 40, 50, 60 years from now," he said.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.