While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fights for its life in Washington D.C, its Northwest regional office is sprinkling awards and acknowledgement to communities who create solutions to clean and efficient water systems throughout the West this week.

The city of Ashland received its award on Thursday morning for its pump station improvements and TAP (Talent-Ashland-Phoenix) Intertie Project. It was completed with a $3.5 million loan to provide a “dependable and more resilient supply of clean and safe drinking water throughout the year to the more than 21,000 residents served,” according to the EPA.

Judy Smith from the agency came to Ashland to recognize the city for its water tap line which connects Ashland, Phoenix and Talent water supply lines for redundancy in case of drought or disaster.

“We wanted to acknowledge projects well planned with efficient technology which could be transferred to other communities," Smith said. "Ashland’s project was outstanding on every front.”

“You feel kind of good to get recognized for the hard work you put in,” admitted Scotty Fleury of Ashland’s Public Works Department. “It’s not a one-man show.”

The major completion of the tie line occurred in September 2014. It took roughly half a year to be up and running once the plan was in place. “We constructed in a little over five months in the third year of a drought. All the planning and doing in five months shows a high level of communication and commitment,” said Fleury. “It was a city team effort.”

The award, called the “WATERS,” stands for "Well-planned, Affordable, Transferable, Efficient, Resilient and Sustainable." Other winners of the award, which recognizes strides in complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act, include Ketchum, Idaho; Baker City and Garibaldi, as well as Ashland in Oregon and the Stevens County Public Utility District in Washington State.

The city of Ashland began considering a back-up system for clean drinking water after the floods of 1997 knocked out its main water treatment plant, leaving the city without drinking water for several weeks. “It provides redundancy for our water system for critical needs,” said Fleury of the tie line. Its completion represents a big step forward should the city experience future flooding or drought which is also a part of the Climate and Energy Action Plan-to create contingencies for climate change impacts, according to Fleury.

When asked if this type of program would continue in the wake of proposed cuts under the Trump administration budget released on Thursday which would slash one-third of the EPA’s budget, Smith would not comment. “I couldn’t talk about that all.” Fleury also said it wouldn’t be his place to discuss. “That’s political. I couldn’t speak to it.”

Since the program, which helped Ashland create the TAP Intertie and pump station improvements began, there has been a federal investment of more than $19.1 billion dollars. More than 12,800 assistance agreements which have helped local agreements, according to Smith, were created. 

In handing the award to the city, Smith said the Ashland water system now provides a dependable and more resilient supply of clean and safe drinking water throughout the year. “For your excellence in using the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to fully implement a well-planned, affordable, efficient and sustainable project, we would like to present you with a 2017 EPA Region 10 WATERS award.”

With that, the city, which was not even aware it had been nominated for the award by the managers of the fund, accepted it.

The program has provided financial support to water systems and to state safe water programs for more than 20 years under the Clean Drinking Water Act which created the establishment of the fund in 1996.

It is unclear at this time if the loan program which funded Ashland’s project will continue.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.