Ashland will pay $2.6 million to help cover Medford water system infrastructure costs as part of a deal to bring emergency water from Medford to Ashland this summer via the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line.
The Ashland City Council approved the payments on Tuesday night.
The payments can be made annually to Medford over the next 20 years, or Ashland can pay off the $2.6 million early without penalties, according to an agreement between the two cities.
Faced with low winter snowpack and potential drought this summer, the Ashland City Council is moving to expedite construction of the water line, known as TAP.
Several city councilors said having access to Medford water is critical.
"Our first responsibility as government is to protect our citizenry," said Councilor Greg Lemhouse, who lived in Ashland during the 1997 flood that wiped out the city's drinking water supply for weeks.
In normal water years, Ashland gets enough water from its watershed and the Talent Irrigation District.
The TAP line already brings Medford Water Commission water to Talent and needs to be continued to Ashland. The extension was previously scheduled to be built next year, but could be finished in mid-August.
"This is an insurance policy for our community," Councilor Rich Rosenthal said.
Ashland officials don't yet know the full costs to build the TAP water line extension, but it will likely exceed $2 million.
In years past, officials debated building the TAP line to provide regular supplemental water for Ashland.
However, a water master plan recommended by the Ashland Water Advisory Committee and approved by the council in 2012 calls for using the TAP line only for emergencies.
The full costs of having a TAP line to provide supplemental water on a regular basis would have been $12 million, according to 2012 estimates.