Candidate Q&A: Sierra Lakes County Water District
Incumbents Martin Bern, Wade Freedle, and challenger Joseph Gray answered questions from the Sierra Sun. Challenger Al Le Bel did not respond.
Bern: The district has been studying water demand and resources, and will soon issue a report addressing this issue. Assuring that sustainable water resources will exist for current water customers is paramount, which is why I sponsored a new district ordinance prioritizing water service within our district. We also must assure that sufficient water exists for presently subdivided lots before the District undertakes to provide water to any new development on the Summit. I also support acquiring the lake bottom parcel through eminent domain to protect the safety of our future water supply.Gray: Until recently, providing water service for the area has been relatively straightforward pump water from the lakes. Now, with Royal Gorge asking to triple or quadruple the amount of water supplied to customers, the water service question becomes a water management question. The initial step in the management process is prioritizing service, which the water district did this year. The priorities are existing customers first, with lot owners second. Only after these customers are satisfied will water service be considered for new subdivisions. The second step is to establish a water management plan including a thorough water supply assessment and comprehensive water conservation plan. My objective will be to see that this plan insures water to all existing customers and lot owners by imposing water conservation measures if drought or climate change dictates their use, and reserving back up wells for last resort emergencies. Freedle: At present we do not have a problem in regard to the water supply available in our watershed. Our latest measure of the amount of water flowing through the lakes and into the American River canyon during the spring melt was in excess of 3,000 acre feet. Since our reservoir only holds 780 acre feet and is not drawn down more than 250 acre feet in a normal year, the water supply generated by our watershed is completely adequate for the foreseeable future.
Gray: To properly manage our water supply, we have to look carefully at the lakes and other potential water sources, and try to predict how much water will be available for the future. Only after this prediction has been done can one say how much water is available for Royal Gorge. Royal Gorge has suggested other potential water supply alternatives. Any potential new water supplies must meet the tests of being practical, reliable, sustainable, and cost effective. My opinion, expressed in my study: The Royal Gorge Water Study: A Hodgepodge of Fragile Sources, is that Royal Gorges proposed water sources do not currently meet these tests, with further study being warranted. The Royal Gorge development also raises questions about watershed protection which must be answered. I have major concerns about the health of the water supply if the lakes remaining watershed is developed. Bern: Based on information available at this time, I do not believe that the district has sufficient water resources in Ice Lakes to serve the 1,000-odd subdivision proposed by Royal Gorge without causing irreversible environmental damage to the lakes and ecosystem. Royal Gorge has proposed potential alternative sources of water storage, but has not to date explained whether they are environmentally, administratively or legally feasible.Freedle: All questions in regard to additional water supplies that might be available for further development is dependent on the outcome of our water supply study which is still in progress.
Gray: The districts water management plan will help answer this question. The plan will include a water balance model for the lakes. This model will predict the lake level and water availability based upon many factors including snowfall, pumping rates, evaporation, and winter ice. The model can then be used to predict water availability under future conditions, including extended droughts and potential effects of climate change. The districts water permit status complicates the question. Another candidate, Mr. LeBel, filed a complaint with the State Water Board alleging that SLCWD was not bypassing water as required in summer months. While it appears that the state has not found merit in the complaint, its investigation questioned the water districts ability to pump water during the spring runoff season, a practice called direct diversion. As the districts permit is for storage, not direct diversion, the permit itself needs modified.Bern: The District likely has the storage and infrastructure to support the build out of the existing lots in Serene Lakes. The District has neither sufficient storage or facilities to serve the large new subdivision proposed by Royal Gorge. In addition, the State of California is taking an aggressive position on water rights issues, and this may pose hurdles to a large-scale development within the important watersheds at issue here. Competing downstream uses of water, such as farming, municipal water demand and environmental protection, also must be considered in connection with any proposed new development on the Summit.Freedle: I can only address the limitation that might be represented by available water supplies. Again, all questions in regard to further water supplies are dependent on the results of the water supply analysis which is still in progress.
Gray: I believe the district has a duty to protect the recreational and aesthetic value of the lakes equal to its duty to supply water to current customers, and is more important than its duty to future customers. In addition, the lakes health is paramount. The health, recreational and aesthetic values of the lakes is discussed in my report: A Serene Lakes Depth Analysis, which concludes that at a drop of 3.5 feet: 12 percent of the lakes is dry, another 10 percent is an average of 6 inches deep, another 14 percent is an average of 18 inches deep, and the channel between the islands is all but dry. Recreational use will be ruined and the health of the lakes due to turbidity, warming, vegetation decay and algae, will be compromised. That cannot be allowed to happen, which is why I strongly support limiting water draw to 3 feet or less.Bern: The District owes a duty to its members and to future generations to assure that its operations do not negatively impact the natural beauty, recreational values and environmental health of our lakes. It would be shortsighted indeed to sacrifice the public values of the lakes to satisfy the desire of Royal Gorge to profit from development of their lands. Current residents have invested hundreds of millions of dollars over decades in their homes in Serene Lakes. That investment exceeds by an order of magnitude the monies that Royal Gorges new owners only recently invested. Therefore, as Director I have opposed measures that might harm the long-standing recreational and aesthetic value of the lakes.Freedle: We have not been compelled to make a determination as to the value of recreation and aesthetics versus additional water for municipal use. There have been several hypothetical scenarios advanced but until our water supply analysis is completed and we have a final demand schedule from proposed development, we will not be able to make this assessment.
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