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Ashland’s connection to TAP; impact on Medford Water Commission

The City of Ashland recently approved the construction of a pipeline from Talent in order to obtain access to the Medford Water Commission (MWC) system for a secondary source of water. Following are some questions and answers relative to the role of and impacts on MWC relative to this action.
There was a lot of news on Ashland’s decision to pursue this project. Was there a similar approval by the Medford Water Commission?
This connection is actually the final step in the Talent, Ashland, Phoenix Intertie (TAP) project, which was generally approved by Medford’s Board of Water Commissioners about fifteen years ago, and has been a part of MWC’s capacity planning since then.  That project involved construction of a pipeline sized to provide all of Talent’s water needs, a second pipe to Phoenix, and a supplemental source of water for Ashland.  When initially constructed, the TAP pipeline was installed just to Talent, with both Phoenix and Talent utilizing it immediately upon its completion. 
As the approval and basic conditions had already been made long ago, MWC’s recent decisions were largely related to details such as amounts and timing of systems development charge payments now owed by Ashland.
What is the potential impact on Medford Water Commission from this action?
The pipeline connecting Ashland to Talent is proposed to have a capacity of a little more than 2 million gallons per day (mgd), and Ashland’s portion of the main TAP line is limited to 3 mgd.  This is a relatively small impact on the MWC system, which has a current treatment capacity of around 70 mgd and experiences summer water demands ranging from about 45 mgd to 60 mgd. 
Additionally, as was also true for both Phoenix and Talent, Ashland was required to acquire water rights to all water that they would utilize from the TAP pipeline during the summer months.  All three of these cities have obtained rights to water stored in Lost Creek Lake to satisfy this requirement.  As a result, during summer months when water demands are greatest, MWC essentially treats these cities’ own water and conveys it through the MWC system to the TAP master meter.  (In winter months when demands are much lower, service to all customers can be accomplished utilizing just MWC’s water rights.)  In turn, the cities served pay their proportionate share of costs for water treatment and upsizing/maintaining core components of the water system.
Is/was there a cost to MWC associated with TAP pipeline construction?
No, the TAP pipeline and associated pumping and storage facilities were paid for and are owned by the three cities that utilize them. This is consistent with service arrangements for other local cities that receive water from MWC.  In each case, while MWC assumes responsibility for water treatment as well as maintaining sufficient system capacity to transport the water to the cities, once the treated water passes through these cities’ master meters, it flows into the water systems that are owned and operated by the respective city(ies).
According to news stories, Ashland will only use TAP water for emergencies.  Will they just use it during drought years or could they use it more often?
Ashland’s objective for this pipeline is to provide an alternate water source for emergency situations.  While relieving water shortages during dry years is likely to be the most common use, emergencies such as damage to their treatment plant and/or pipeline to town, as occurred in the 1997 flood, are even more critical events that could be relieved with this water source. 
However, if Ashland chose to use TAP water to supplement their water supplies more often, they could do so, with the primary limitation being to remain within their Lost Creek Lake water rights allocation during the summer.  On the other hand, it was never Ashland’s intent or desire for the TAP pipeline to fully supply the city’s water needs.  As such, neither the main TAP pipeline nor the extension now being planned have the capacity for more than a supplemental supply.
What if Medford Water Commission and Ashland both experienced water service challenges at the same time?
If that was the case, all customers would generally be expected to restrict their water usage comparably, in compliance with MWC’s Curtailment Plan.  Historically, however, that situation has not tended to occur, as the two water systems are quite different.  
MWC benefits from system redundancies through two separate water sources (Big Butte Springs and Rogue River) as well as two independent pipelines between the springs and Medford.  This results in less susceptibility to isolated events that might impair a single facility.  With the significant springs groundwater supply and watersheds that are larger and at higher elevations than Ashland’s, MWC’s water sources have also been less vulnerable to a single year of drought or low snow pack.  Lost Creek Lake provides some stability to Rogue River flows as well, contributing to the reliability of withdrawals from the river, including those at MWC’s Duff Treatment Plant.  Additionally, MWC’s practice of maintaining treatment capacities at the Duff Plant that exceed typical demands has provided a buffer to accommodate additional demands during periods when water usage is higher than normal and/or the Big Butte Springs flows are diminished.   
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that MWC is immune from potential service disruptions, particularly from a catastrophic event.  While it is hoped that severe restrictions under its Curtailment Plan will never be needed, MWC developed this plan to guide actions in the event that service limitations were necessary.  Regardless, whether or not curtailment actions are needed for short term events, MWC’s actions to encourage efficient use of its water every day will continue to be ongoing.

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