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Cities propose joint water rights plan

Mail Tribune/file photo There is a “traffic jam” of water rights held by local cities and the Medford Water Commission at the Duff Water Treatment plant on the Rogue River.
Strategy would improve efficiency, solve ‘traffic jam’

A proposed intergovernmental agreement and water rights strategy between the Medford Water Commission and its six partner cities in the Rogue Valley is designed to ensure security of water rights for the cities and address supply issues.

“All the partners rely on Medford Water Commission for supplies. (The agreement is) intended to secure the supply for the future, and we are prioritizing to get more security,” said Brad Taylor, commission general manager.

The most important thing is to get the partners certified under Oregon law, said Taylor. The cities are in different stages, including use of water rights transfers and permits, while some also hold certificates, which provide the highest level of security.

The issues affect Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent, all of whom get water from the commission. Problems also include a surplus of water rights held by partners and water supply imbalance between them.

Currently there is a “traffic jam” of water rights held by the cities and the commission at the Duff Water Treatment plant on the Rogue River — there are more water rights in place than can be treated by the plant, with a total of 17 different rights agreements.

“The situation … can cause some difficult policy, legal and technical issues,” said Adam Sussman, principal water resources consultant with GSI Water Solutions, Inc., which has helped develop the intergovermental agreement for the commission. He and Taylor gave a presentation to Phoenix City Council in February. Presentations have also been given to councils in Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point and Jacksonville, with one scheduled for Talent next week.

The water rights held by the partners are used from May through September drawing from Lost Creek Reservoir on the Rogue River. Beginning in October the water comes from commission sources, either Big Butte Springs or the reservoir.

“Some cities have a lot of water rights and use little, so they have an excess. Others have little water rights and a shortage,” Sussman said.

Rather than have cities buy still more water rights, making the excess worse, the intergovermental agreement would include a framework on how to share the water supply, said Sussman. Other entities in the state, including the Yamhill Regional Water Authority and a Tualatin Valley commission operate under sharing agreements.

“The goal is for everyone to get certificates, but getting a certificate is tied to the capacity at the water treatment plant,” said Kim Grigsby, also with GSI. The Duff plant is in the early stages of treatment capacity expansion that isn’t expected to be finished until 2028. Treatment capacity would increase to 65 million gallons per day from the present 45 million gallons

Another part of the certification process is to show the cities are using the water right they do have. All cities would retain their water right under the proposal, Grigsby said.

The commission gave concurrence at its March 2 meeting that the draft has been developed in accordance with its direction, but will wait to give final approval after more refinements. Cities will also need to agree to the intergovermental agreement, with consideration occurring during April and May.

The Water Commission has paid for development of the agreement, which started nearly two years ago. Assembly of baseline data came first, then nearly monthly meetings were held for the last year with the consultants and partner cities to create the draft proposal.

“The policy removes decision-making so we can focus on accomplishing the strategy,” said Taylor. The agreement tries to iron out policy issues to the point where it almost does its own thing, Taylor explained in an interview. It’s prescriptive so that decisions won’t need to be made if it is adopted.

The agreement would also provide for sharing of supplies, so that cities which use beyond their allotted amounts would be compensating those that don’t reach their maximums. The funds would help some cities to operate and maintain their systems. Presently the commission charges for water supplied through its rate structures.

Phoenix, which has 1,000 acre-feet of permits for water has a population of 4,096, while Central Point has transfers and certificates for 1,204 acre-feet with a population of 19,702. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre one foot deep. A football field is roughly an acre in size.

Phoenix, which only has permits, would be first in line to get certification once the Duff plant expansion is operational, the consultants said.

Other city capacities include Eagle Point, 1,860 acre-feet, Jacksonville, 600 acre-feet, and Talent, 1,292 acre-feet. Ashland has 1,000-acre feet, but much of its water supply comes from Reeder Reservoir above the city

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