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After takeover, Donner Lake water costlier

Erich Sommer, Sierra Sun

Two and a half months after Truckee Donner Public Utility District assumed control of the Donner Lake water system, and despite the fact the boil water notice remains in effect, most Donner Lake residents seem pleased with the progress made in rehabilitating a water system that had fallen into a state of disrepair.

But some lingering problems have caused a rash of phone calls to TDPUD’s customer service department and to General Manager Peter Holzmeister.

According to staff reports compiled earlier this month, TDPUD has received “at least 400 phone calls ( almost all complaints) from Donner Lake water customers.”

The report grouped those complaints into half a dozen categories, including complaints of being out of water over the Fourth of July, billing by TDPUD and Del Oro Water Company, the former water provider, covering the same time period, a higher residential water rate, and confusion about TDPUD’s billing system.

Holzmeister, who said he has personally handled many of the calls, said “the overwhelming majority are satisfied (with TDPUD’s management) but there is some amount of confusion and a lot questions.”

Some residents, however, feel the complaints arise from unrealistic expectations of TDPUD.

“They just took over a completely failed water system, (including) the intake, tanks and an old and decrepit distribution system,” said Emilie Kashtan. “(TDPUD) literally put corks in hundreds of holes. It’s not going to be fixed in a day.”

Kashtan was one of a handful of activists instrumental in the struggle to get former owner Del Oro to relinquish control of the deteriorating water system.

According to Kashtan and Holzmeister, complaints about being billed by Del Oro and by TDPUD seem to arise from those who paid their water bill to Del Oro on an annual basis and have recently begun to receive monthly water bills from TDPUD after they assumed control of the water system on May 21.

Kashtan said mailings and e-mails to Donner Lake residents over six months ago encouraged those who were eligible – any Del Oro customer who had been a customer for over a year – to pay their water bill monthly, instead of annually, knowing takeover of the water system was imminent.

“I think the big concern is ‘I already paid my $23 a month (to Del Oro),’ but the big picture here is that things are getting fixed,” Kashtan said.

“There are a variety of questions people are asking and half are probably ‘What happened to the money I paid Del Oro?'” said Holzmeister. “But, when it became fairly obvious we would become the water purveyor, around December, we encouraged all Del Oro customers to pay their water bill on a monthly basis.”

Holzmeister said TDPUD hopes annual fees already paid to Del Oro will be factored into any settlement that is reached with the former Donner Lake water provider over the purchase of the water system. When that happens, customers will have their accounts credited.

“We believe the court will provide those credits,” Holzmeister said.

Holzmeister also acknowledged that TDPUD’s rates are higher than Del Oro’s, but said that the former owner’s prices were exceptionally low, and likely responsible for the deteriorating system.

“Every time I spoke to a (Donner Lake) group, I told them, “We’ll do this, but it’s going to cost more Not only can Del Oro not give you quality service for that price, but we can’t either,” Holzmeister said.

Ed Taylor, the water superintendent for TDPUD, said work is currently focusing on three areas: modifying the lake intake, replacement of pipeline in the South Shore Drive and Reed Drive areas, and joint trenching with Southwest Gas to install new water mains on the west end of the Lake. Southwest Gas will use the same trenches for future gas lines.

“The big project is replacement of pipeline,” Taylor said. “And with a little luck, we can get all the trenching done this year.”

Taylor said work on the lake intake is expected to be completed Friday.


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