Ice covers Reeder Reservoir, Ashland?s source of drinking water, Monday afternoon. Ashland is exploring the idea of tapping into a Talent reservoir for emergency water, gaining access to Medford?s water supply without paying required system development charges. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Questionable pipe dream?

The Medford Water Commission has reacted warily to Ashland's idea of gaining emergency access to Medford's water system without paying the required $3.7 million in system development charges.

For years, Ashland has discussed tapping into a pipeline constructed from Medford to the southern end of Talent, but has balked at the $12.2 million cost. Now it's proposing a much cheaper $2 million option that would tap into a reservoir at the southern end of Talent but turn on the water only for emergencies, such as drought or when its water treatment plant gets flooded.

The water commission estimates it has invested $3.7 million to improve its system through Medford to handle Ashland's anticipated needs. Once Ashland tapped into this system, it was supposed to pay a system development charge based on today's dollars to cover the water commission's costs.

"At first glance, according to Ashland's proposal, we may never collect those SDCs," said Larry Rains, manager of the water commission. "We spent money that we didn't need to spend."

Rains said his board will have lots of questions about Ashland's proposal at a study session scheduled for 11:45 a.m. April 5 at 200 S. Ivy St.

Ashland, Phoenix and Talent have spent millions of dollars to build the oversized pipeline from Medford that is stubbed out at the southern end of Talent.

Ashland has paid in excess of$2 million for its share of the line so far.

Ashland proposes connecting to a reservoir above Creel Road that is owned by Talent. The pipeline from the reservoir would be 8,000 feet shorter than to the main line serving Phoenix and Talent known as TAP (Talent-Ashland-Phoenix).

Also, the shorter pipeline would provide water by gravity to the urban-growth boundary of Ashland.

Talent already has a pipeline feeding the reservoir that is sufficiently sized to handle Ashland's needs but would have to make improvements to its reservoir, said Mike Faught, Ashland's public works director.

Faught said Ashland would try to avoid using any of the Talent water unless it faced an emergency situation.

Only if Ashland used water from the reservoir would it want to pay a portion of the system development charges, he said.

Faught said city officials will lay out their plan to the water commission with a discussion about any possible system development charges.

Faught said the city is planning to build a new 2.5-million- gallon-a-day water treatment plant near Reeder Reservoir that would be outside a drainage area that gets flooded. The current 7.5-million-gallon-a-day plant has been flooded out during storms, creating temporary water shortages, Faught said.

Ashland would like to build the emergency pipeline by 2015, then open the new treatment plant that would supplement the existing plant in 2018.

Faught said he didn't know whether Ashland would ever hook into the pipeline that was engineered and built for his city as well as Phoenix and Talent.

"In the short term, we couldn't say, but in 50 or 100 years, it would be hard to predict," he said.

In 2009, Ashland faced a water shortage when flows into Reeder Reservoir dropped from 4 million gallons a day to 3 million gallons.

Leigh Johnson, a water commission board member, said the commission's policy has been to require a city to pay development charges when it taps into Medford's water system.

"We haven't deviated from that policy in the past," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email

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