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Fluid dynamics

As the old Western saying goes, whiskey is for drinkin' and water is for fightin'.

While disputes over in-stream rights can get a bit testy hereabouts, the Rogue Valley's city dwellers are blessed with ample water — for now. But the Medford Water Commission's plans to greatly increase systems development charges for new homes in Phoenix and Talent have touched off grumbles in those parts.

No one likes to be confronted with the cost of modern conveniences, especially those provided by government bodies. The water is supposed to come out of the tap when we turn the faucet, and we're supposed to receive a bill once a month that isn't too painful to pay.

That tends to work very well — until more people move into town, new houses are built to accommodate them, and the water treatment plant needs to be expanded to quench the growing public thirst.

The Water Commission proposes to meet this challenge by charging fees to those building the new houses. The builders will of course pass the cost on to the buyers of those houses.

This has Phoenix and Talent civic leaders antsy, not to mention the developers who are already antsy about starting new subdivisions in a sour housing market.

But here's the rub. The population is growing, and will continue to grow, especially when the economy begins to rebound.

Expanding water treatment capacity is not optional under those circumstances. It's mandatory. The only question is how to pay for it.

It makes no sense to put the whole increase on those already using the water system. The growth is neither their fault nor their responsibility.

Phoenix Mayor Carlos DeBritto asked in a letter to the commission if the costs could be reduced. That's a reasonable request, and one the commission should seriously explore.

Water conservation efforts also can help, if only to put off the day of reckoning when the Duff Water Treatment Plant on the Rogue River must be expanded. But eventually that day will come.

Already, peak summer demand can reach 60 million gallons a day, and the plant can treat 45 million gallons a day. Big Butte Springs produces 26 million gallons a day, and the system does have storage capacity. But it won't be long before population growth sucks up all the water available and asks for more.

Ashland, which is not connected to the Water Commission system, will probably one day come to its senses and hook up, adding even more demand.

The commission is doing its best to plan for the future we all know is coming, and to pay for the necessary expansion in the fairest possible way.

We'll drink to that.