Boiled, filtered or bottled?How Donner Lake residents are coping with the boil water order
With rumors of unethical business practice and government incompetence swirling over them, residents at Donner Lake are certain of at least one thing: the boil water notice currently affecting the lake has imposed more than water restrictions. It has, say homeowners, altered virtually every aspect of their lives.
Del Oro Water Co., which purchased Donner Lake Water Co. in 1993, was mandated by the State Department of Health Services to provide a surface water treatment plant at the lake. The water company has yet to build the treatment facility, and on June 26, the water company issued a notice that Donner Lake residents must boil all tap water before using it and declared a water emergency that is in effect until further notice.
Janet Whalen, who owns a second home at Donner lake, said she received the boil water notice on June 29.
“First off, it’s scary to read that notice. It says things like you can’t wash your vegetables without boiling the water first. And it’s a lot of work boiling water, waiting for it to cool. I have a five-gallon container that I transfer the boiled water into. Luckily I’m one who cooks so I own a lot of pots,” said Whalen.
“And then you’re using it sparingly, and you’re scaring yourself while you’re using it. Say you want to rinse a dish, and you don’t have enough water to rinse it properly, and you give it a quick rinse with the tap. If you’re not healthy, something like this could really make a difference, say if you had AIDS or something.”
Dr. Alexander Rogerson, a retired pediatrician who lives at Donner Lake, said he is concerned about residents with weaker immune systems, such as children or senior citizens, who have been drinking Donner Lake water for a prolonged period of time.
“If you read the paper 10 years ago the situation was the same,” Rogerson said. “I don’t think the water is any worse: it’s been like this for quite a while. They’ve always been taking water out of the lake and springs and the system has always leaked. However, there is more use on the lake, there are more swimmers and there are geese out there now… I worry about residents with young children, and I’m concerned that the chlorinators fail without warning.”
Jack Ivory, a Donner Lake resident since 1982, said that several years ago his infant child kept having diarrhea, so he took her to a pediatrician at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
“When I took her to Tahoe Forest Hospital the doctor there told us not to put Donner Lake water in her formula. She was suffering from dehydration,” said Ivory.
Rogerson mentioned that he chooses to filter his water rather than boil it.
“Boiling is a nuisance… We’ve had filters for three years, but we’ve added more now. If we had to boil all the water we wash vegetables with, I don’t know how we would manage it.”
Mary Lou Higuera, 73, can’t manage without the help of her neighbors.
“I have emphysema and I can’t lift or carry big pans of water,” Higuera said, “so my neighbors and I are getting water brought in with five-gallon jugs.”
“I have a filter, and I called the company to make sure it filters out the germs in the water,” she continued. “It does. If it didn’t I would be in a world of trouble… [the boil water notice] has changed my living but I have gotten around it. Thank God I have good neighbors.”
Some residents are less resilient than Higuera. Many decided to leave town or canceled plans to return rather than tolerate the laborious task of boiling water.
“Traditionally, I have family up for Thanksgiving,” said Whalen, “but I’m not going to do that this year. I’m lucky because I come back to the city and can fill up my two five-gallon containers. It seems like camping, like being in a rural village in Mexico.”
Rogerson said there are some people who have left their homes at Donner Lake because they have other homes.
“They don’t like the day-to-day hassle so they’ve left,” he said.
Whalen also mentioned that she doesn’t understand why Donner Lake Village has been so opposed to the proposed treatment plant.
“This is a problem for them [Donner Lake Village] too, they are cutting into their own business.”
David Miller, general manager for Donner Lake Village, said that he will probably install bottled water in each of the condominiums, or he may put filters on the Village’s water source as a short-term solution.
Donner Lake Kitchen, a popular diner on north shore, imports water from Glenshire instead of boiling water from Donner Lake. Employees there say they go through 30 to 40 pots of coffee every day, which requires 25 gallons of water.
“We’re charging our customers for bottled water, which is ridiculous,” said Michelle Ng, a Donner Lake Kitchen employee.
The boil water notice has affected all the residents near Donner Lake. For now, no one can say for sure when the boil water notice will be lifted, or when construction of the proposed $3.7 million treatment plant will begin.
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