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Commission's move well-timed

It's not easy to deny water to 60 homes, but it was the right decision

The Medford Water Commission did the hard thing, but the right thing, in denying a request from a rural subdivision to hook up with the urban water system. That denial was particularly well-timed, in light of the growing pressure in Oregon to develop rural farm and forest lands.

The commission last week denied a request from property owners in the Westwood subdivision, which has suffered from low well-water flows in recent summers. The subdivision is situated off Ross Lane, west of the city limits of Medford and outside the city's urban growth boundary.

It is the location that proved to be the sticking point. The Water Commission's policy limits new service to property within city limits and, in some cases, outside the city limits but inside the city's urban growth boundary. The Westwood subdivision fits neither case.

But the Westwood neighbors do have a compelling story to tell. The subdivision, which was legally established in the 1950s, includes about 60 homes and 200 residents. The county allowed the development and, through no fault of the homeowners, their water supply is now drying up. They have purchased their own water rights and, for very little expense, could tap into a line that extends to the nearby federal Naval Reserve Center.

While it's hard not to be sympathetic to their plight, granting water service could open the, pardon us, floodgates for future pleas. The Water Commission already turns down eight to 10 requests for service every year from individuals and groups outside the urban-growth boundary.

And that number almost certainly would increase if Measure 37 is reinstated, or similar legislation enacted to allow additional development in rural areas. That looming possibility ' probability, some would say ' makes the Water Commission's decision even more important. If rural property owners want to develop their land, they need to know up front they will have to come up with their own water system rather than tap into their urban neighbors' lines.

While Big Butte Springs and the Rogue River provide an ample water supply now, that supply is finite. Water Commission studies predict the current treatment plant will have to be expanded in nine years and the current water supply will be maxed out by the year 2030. Now is no time to be offering water to a whole new set of suitors.

We wish there were a way to provide water to the Westwood residents without setting a precedent that would have far-reaching consequences. But those consequences for the many future residents of Medford and other urban areas must outweigh the difficulties facing the relative handful of people in the subdivision.