Water rate increases are needed

No one likes to hear that the cost of a staple they rely on is expected to double, but residents and businesses in Ashland are faced with that ugly truth. And it's hard to see a good way around it.

The Ashland City Council will consider in the near future — perhaps as early as next month — adopting a set of Water Advisory Committee recommendations. City officials estimate those recommendations could double the cost of water for city residents and businesses over the next 10 years. Adding to that sticker shock is the news that sewer rates may also double in the same time period.

In both cases, the city is faced with the reality of replacing aging and vulnerable facilities and equipment. A flood, landslide or wildfire could jeopardize the city's drinking water supply for weeks or months — a proven possibility that left Ashland with empty faucets for two weeks following a flood in 1997.

The Water Advisory Committee's recommendation calls for a multi-tiered approach: a second water treatment plant ($12 million), a water holding tank ($8.7 million), repairing and replacing existing water lines ($6.6 million), connecting a small emergency-use line to the Medford Water Commission line that now ends in Talent ($2.1 million) and replacing an open irrigation canal with pipes to reduce leakage and contamination ($1.1 million).

That adds up to more than $30 million. Public works officials say the second plant and connection to the Medford system could be considered optional, but would provide the backup supply needed in case of an emergency. The work on the pipes and the water tank will be needed in any case, they say.

You can nitpick the proposal — if you have the second treatment plant, do you really need the Medford connection or vice-versa? — but the advisory committee obviously did a thorough job in considering the possibilities.

There are no doubt additional carrot-and-stick approaches to conserving water in the city, which has already taken such steps as developing system leak detection, conservation-based water rates, a showerhead replacement program and toilet retrofits and replacement.

We think the conservation-based water rates could be more heavily weighted to protect homeowners and businesses that use lesser amounts of water. But it's not an easy equation: Some businesses, including tourist-related operations, clearly use more water than others and should not be penalized.

But all things being equal, those individuals and companies using more water should be hit with a proportionally heavier bill. A tripling of water use now results in a less than 25 percent increase in per-gallon cost. That's not much incentive to bring the heavy water users more into line with the norm.

There are likely other conservation measures that could be implemented, but it's unlikely any or all of them would put off the need for repairing and replacing an aging system. Any investment requires an up-front payment, one that can sometimes be painful. But this is an investment the city and its residents cannot afford to forego.

Share This Story