Loans to ensure water supplies in disasters – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

The Medford Water Commission’s Robert A. Duff treatment plant, which treats water from the Rogue River before it is sent to customers, is currently being increased in capacity from 45 million gallons per day to 65 million gallons. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

The money will be used to harden systems against earthquakes, build new reservoirs and improve water quality

A $96.8 million federal loan announced this week will help keep faucets flowing for Medford Water Commission customers when the area is hit by an earthquake.

The money will be used to improve water quality, build new water storage facilities in East Medford, and modernize the Robert A. Duff Water Treatment Plant in White City so it can continue to operate in the event of a disaster or power outage.

“The biggest concern is a Cascadia subduction earthquake,” said Brad Taylor, general manager of the water commission, which serves 140,000 residents in the valley.

The subduction zone is off the Oregon coast, where two tectonic plates rub against each other, causing devastating earthquakes every 200 to 900 years, according to historical accounts. The last occurred in 1701. Volcanoes such as Mount St. Helens and Crater Lake are associated with this tectonic zone.

Two soft loans are part of a federal initiative to help local communities withstand an earthquake and will save the water board $12 million in interest over the 30-year repayment period.

One loan is $27.4 million at 2.1% and the second is $69.4 million at 3.2%. The Water Commission hasn’t gone far enough in an environmental assessment of some projects to include it all in the 2.1% interest rate.

Another advantage of the loans is that there are no principal payments to be made in the first five years.

“Access to reliable, clean water and a resilient water infrastructure system is critical to the health and strength of every family,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-OR, who authored the bill that helped create the Water Infrastructure Finance and Infrastructure Act.

The federal loans are part of a 10-year plan to invest approximately $200 million in the Medford-area water system, which serves most of the communities in the valley.

As part of the improvements, the program will help better adjust pH to reduce lead and copper leaching from domestic plumbing.

The Duff plant, which treats water from the Rogue River before it is sent to customers, will undergo a capacity increase from 45 million gallons per day to 65 million.

A portion of the facility will be earthquake-proofed with backup generators so that it can continue to produce 26 million gallons per day in the event of a disaster. This upgrade will be paid for by the federal loans.

Taylor said the 26 million gallons would be enough to ensure customers have adequate drinking water in the event of a disaster.

Over the next 50 years, the Water Commission plans to convert the entire Duff facility into a hardened facility to withstand a natural disaster.

There are currently three 12 million gallon capacity reservoirs on Capital Hill in East Medford.

“That’s really the heart of the system,” Taylor said.

The loans will be used to pay for two replacement reservoirs that will also hold 12 million gallons, but the new tanks and lines will be designed to better withstand an earthquake.

Taylor said the commission is developing plans to keep the water supply going while the reservoirs are replaced over the next few years.

Additionally, a new 8-million-gallon tank is being built somewhere off Foothill Road in east Medford, although the Water Commission is still working to secure a site for the project.

In 10 years or more, the Water Commission plans to build another 8-million-gallon reservoir in South Medford to service this fast-growing area, although that project is still at the drawing board.

Also included in the earthquake hardening reconstruction project is the improvement of water transmission lines and pumps.

Interest rates are expected to rise by 6% to 8% over the next few years to cover some of the cost of reconstruction, before returning to more normal inflation-based increases thereafter.

In 2024 or 2025, the Water Commission expects to apply for a revenue bond of approximately $22 to $25 million.

The City of Medford is served directly by the Commission, but major customers include White City, Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent. When the commission was formed 100 years ago, it laid 30 miles of pipe from Big Butte Springs with a $1 million bail.

The springs have historically provided most of the water for area residents, but population growth has required additional water from the Rogue River.

A prolonged drought, which brought some relief with this year’s spring rains, has resulted in reduced water flows from the springs, leading to earlier-than-expected withdrawals from the Rogue River.

The commission is allowed to withdraw up to 100 million gallons a day from the Rogue River, although that would require additional improvements to the Duff facility.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at [email protected]

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