Construction is underway on a water pipeline to bring Medford water to Ashland for potential emergency use late this summer.
Stacks of pipe and construction equipment along Highway 99 between Ashland and Talent mark where crews are working on the long-planned Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water pipeline. Medford-based Pilot Rock Excavation is digging for the pipe's installation.
For years, the TAP line has brought Medford water as far south as Talent, but this summer's construction will stretch the line to Ashland.
On-the-ground work on the Ashland segment began on June 3, said city of Ashland Senior Project Manager Morgan Wayman.
"We got almost 5,000 feet of pipe in the ground in a week. That's pretty amazing," Wayman said.
He said he believes the entire pipeline and a pump station can be finished in mid-August.
Ashland will begin supplementing its own water supplies with water from Medford if needed. Snowpack in the Ashland watershed above town is at extremely low levels and the Talent Irrigation District, which also brings water to Ashland, may shut off its water before mid-September because of drought.
"I'm extremely pleased with the speed at which the project is moving and very optimistic Medford Water Commission water will be available for use by the time TID shuts down," City Administrator Dave Kanner said.
He praised the city staff members and contractors working on the TAP project.
"Everyone is doing an incredible job to get this done," Kanner said.
The TAP pipeline can bring up to 2.3 million gallons of water per day to Ashland. Water use citywide can spike to 8 million gallons on hot summer days when people water lawns, gardens and landscaping.
It will be up to city officials to decide whether to actually use TAP water.
"The water will be there to be used if needed. It's a supplement. It will be available," Wayman said.
City officials already have warned residents they likely will face water curtailment measures this summer because of the drought.
"Right now, the earliest any curtailment could begin is July 1, but it depends on how people do voluntarily conserving," Kanner said.
So far, water use has been fairly restrained and Reeder Reservoir in the watershed is full. But eventually more water will be drained from the reservoir for use than will flow in from the watershed.
If people conserve water and the city augments supplies with TID water, Ashland may avoid the most drastic water curtailment measures, Kanner said.
During stages one through three of curtailment, residents and businesses that use more than their allotted amount are charged four times normal water rates for the extra water. Customers must pay 10 times the normal rate for extra water used during stage four of curtailment.
Customers who use excessive water could be penalized with flow restriction devices or find their water service cut off.
The city has budgeted $4.3 million to design and build the TAP pipeline to Ashland. That figure includes a $947,000 contingency fund.
"I firmly believe the costs will be within what was budgeted," Wayman said.
Previous estimates put the cost of the project at $2.3 million, but an expedited schedule, construction cost increases and design changes to boost the pipeline's capacity from 1.5 million gallons per day to 2.3 million gallons per day raised the price tag.
For water conservation tips and information on conservation programs, visit http://ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=1366.