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Time to take the plunge

The Ashland City Council should seize the moment and finally connect to the Medford Water Commission line that now ends at Talent. A potential drought this summer and the ever-present threat of wildfire mean the project should not be put off any longer.

Ashland now gets most of its water from Ashland Creek, supplemented with Talent Irrigation District water when demand is high. The city has imposed mandatory conservation measures including rationing in previous dry years, most recently in 2008. In addition, a serious flood in 1974 threatened the city's water treatment plant, and the 2007 flood interrupted water service for more than a week.

The city long ago agreed to participate in the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix intertie known as TAP, which extended Medford Water Commission service south. In 1998, the city agreed to pay $1.45 million to increase the size of the pipe from Phoenix to Talent from 18 inches to 24 inches to accommodate enough water to serve Ashland in the future.

At the time, a consultant's water study projected Ashland would need the additional water in 2016. But drought years since then led the city to impose rationing and penalties on residents who used too much water in the summer months.

Drought and flooding are just two water-related concerns. The threat of fire in the Ashland Watershed and the need for water to fight residential fires in town is a third.

Ashland Fire & Rescue has proposed designating the entire city as a wildfire hazard zone after a department study found 14 of 16 zones in Ashland are as dangerous or more dangerous than the Oak Knoll neighborhood where a fire destroyed 11 homes in 2010. A similar or worse conflagration could pose a serious threat if it struck when water was limited.

The City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to consider moving quickly to complete the water line extension from Talent by mid-August. That may mean a somewhat higher cost, but the council should weigh that against the potential cost of more delay.

Resistance in the past to connecting to Medford water has stemmed from a desire among Ashland residents to discourage population growth to protect the city's livability. Council members and residents should consider what a catastrophic wildfire would do to that livability.