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South valley awash with money for water projects


South Bear Creek Valley cities are awash with money appropriated by the Oregon Legislature for water system upgrades, several of them focused on redundancy and resiliency to better provide for fire protection in the case of another conflagration like last September’s Almeda fire.

Talent, Phoenix and Ashland were awarded up to $13 million for projects. The award to Ashland is for work on the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water system that delivers Medford Water Commission water to all three jurisdictions.

TAP upgrades totaling up to $3 million would provide for a bypass at a pumping station in Ashland that could send water back through the system both for normal use and in the event of an emergency. Other system upgrades are also funded.

Talent was awarded $5 million to retain and upgrade a 1.5-million-gallon reservoir that was scheduled to end service in the near future for a water reserve.

Phoenix was awarded $5 million for transition costs for potential disbandment of the Charlotte Ann Water District located north of the city’s limits, with a city takeover.

“The state is investing hundreds of millions in water and sewer. It’s definitely needed,” said state Representative Pam Marsh, D-Ashland.

She said there was a lot of opportunity for infrastructure upgrades this session due to availability of federal funds.

When the Almeda fire occurred, the capability in the TAP system for sending water from Ashland was by gravity feed to Talent, said Scott Fleur, Ashland Public Works director. A bypass at the Ashland pumping station would allow for water to be pumped to Talent and Phoenix. Ashland requested the funds on behalf of all three cities.

“I think it will be really well received,” said Fleur. “We put it in there both for emergencies and flow improvements. Also, we would sell water to Talent and Phoenix, if approved by the City Council and if we had a surplus.”

Completion of a new TAP master plan by the three communities that showed what needed to be upgraded was a key in making a request for the funding, said Fleur. Major areas for upgrade included resiliency, seismic improvements and control systems. Improvements will include a couple of booster pumps, and station upgrades to meet fire flow needs and peak demand needs.

“Part of the upgrades is to the booster at Talent to meet both Ashland and Talent needs,” said Fleur. The two cities are currently commingling water, some from Ashland’s Reeder Reservoir and some from the Medford Water Commission.

Seismic retrofits at the Talent booster site will also be funded by the money.

There’s also money for replacement of emergency backup generators in Talent and Ashland.

Engineering for the various improvements will begin after the city gets notice of the date it can expect to receive the money and can develop a supplemental budget, said Fleur.

Talent is nearing completion of a 2.5-million-gallon water reservoir off of Helms Road. Original plans had called for ending storage at a 1.5-million-gallon tank near Belmont Road built in 1971 that was found to have major structural problems during a 2016 inspection. Structural retrofit was called for, but city officials opted to go with a new tank.

“The old one was going to be sunsetted. We asked for funds to upgrade the old one,” said Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Talent interim city manager. When the city applied for the funds, $5 million was a ‘best guess” estimate, said McLeod-Skinner, as there were no engineering plans at that point.

The city also has a 1-million-gallon tank at the Belmont site and a half-million-gallon tank located on Wagner Creek. The tank under construction had a cost of $3.6 million in 2019.

“It will be essential to work on it. We will have enhanced storage facilities,” said McLeod-Skinner.

Charlotte Ann Water District serves the developed, unincorporated area south of Medford and north of Phoenix surrounding Highway 99. Phoenix officials plan to begin the process of putting the land into their urban growth boundary before the end of the year. The area could eventually be annexed. Many residences and businesses in the area were destroyed by the Almeda fire.

“Really, nothing changes with the UGB process. It does set the stage for potential annexation, not anytime in the near term, but in the long term,” said Eric Swanson, Phoenix city manager.

“This (grant) doesn’t have any immediate effect. It’s just money that will be available when the city will take over the system so that it will be up to city standards,” said Swanson.

Much of the money would be spent on increasing water storage capacity to serve the district. The Medford Water Commission maintains the water system and does billing and administration for the water district.

Medford lawyer Robert Stone, a representative for the Charlotte Ann Water District, did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.