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Water master plan aims to unburden Talent

ASHLAND — One year after Talent, Ashland and Phoenix approved an intergovernmental agreement to develop a master plan for the TAP Intertie water system, Ashland City Council was presented with two options.

The first: construct a new pump station in Talent with a transmission line into the Creel Road connection point, which would be operated by Ashland Public Works. The second: share cost and assist with improvements to the existing Talent booster pump station and construct new transmission mains.

“Either of these two options eliminate the pressure created on Talent’s reservoir storage system when Ashland utilizes the TAP connection,” interim Public Works Director Scott Fleury said. “A decision between these two options will require continuing work between the cities of Ashland and Talent.”

The somewhat informal existing TAP format has been successful thus far thanks to amicable relationships and flexibility between the cities as far as water needs, but looking forward 10 to 20 years, formality and clarity of responsibility will be crucial, said RH2 Engineering project manager Rachel Lanigan, the primary consultant on the project.

Rapidly changing conditions and fire recovery efforts in Talent and Phoenix may alter how the municipalities proceed.

“The cities are getting along very well right now and it’s great,” Lanigan said during a City Council study session Monday. “We’ve had a few conversations about making intergovernmental agreements very long term and lasting through changes and leadership, something that can really provide flexibility but also be longstanding.”

The master plan project is intended to provide some cohesiveness to operating, maintaining and improving TAP through different phases of city leadership, staffing and climate change, Lanigan said in response to council questions about changing climate conditions impacting water. The cost to develop the plan, $140,476, is split equally between the three cities.

The Ashland council may approve additional expenses associated with TAP maintenance each biennium along with requests for new appropriations during budgeting.

Lanigan said her team has not pushed Talent and Phoenix governments to prioritize the project, as recent devastating fires take immediate precedence. Still, water access heavily influenced Almeda fire tactics and is a top issue for cities reconsidering their emergency response plans.

“There have been times where Talent has said, ‘Hey, Ashland, you’re drawing down our reservoir, we can’t keep our volume up and this is really impacting our operations,’” Lanigan said. “They’ve figured out ways to adjust that, but it continues to put Talent on edge when Ashland is running and they can’t keep their reservoir full. So, this is a Talent discussion too.”

TAP provides Ashland with redundant water supply from Medford to Ashland through Phoenix and Talent — a system formally connected in 2014 with a new pump station and transmission line.

Under the options, as far as water utility rates, Talent could expect to see an increase of $3-$5 per month for an average household over the next 10 years, while Ashlanders could expect a $2.30-$6 increase on their monthly bill to cover project cost. Ashland may offset costs by selling water to Talent and Phoenix, Lanigan said.

Option No. 2 would be more expensive for all three municipalities, especially Ashland, but would remove any negative impact on Talent’s supply system during maximum pumping days by eliminating a physical connection, Fleury said. Ashland would connect directly to a Phoenix line.

He anticipates the project will be ready for council review and adoption in early 2021, depending on budget and rebuilding ramifications across the valley.

“Having this TAP supply as an emergency resilient supply is a benefit to any community,” Fleury said. “The more redundancy, to a certain degree, the better.”

Cities lost access to TAP during the Almeda fire, but Fleury said his confidence in the benefit of the system remains intact. Short-term loss doesn’t negate long-term value as a safety net for the city, he said.

The council and Mayor John Stromberg raised climate action considerations and options for renewable energy implementation within the project going forward, as Talent and Phoenix bring their water priorities and needs to the table.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

garden sprinkler on a sunny summer day during watering the green lawn