Cost to upgrade water system: priceless | SierraSun.com

Cost to upgrade water system: priceless

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun

Jenny Goldsmith/Sierra SunLake Forest homeowner Darlene Bray contemplates filling a test bottle with tap water for analysis as requested by the Lake Forest private water company. "We as homeowners have to be ready to shell out," Bray said of absorbing the costs for an improved water system.

The exact cost to improve Lake Forest’s water system is still unknown, but residents and business owners say the bottom line is they’re willing to pay the price for clean water.

“We need a new water system as soon as possible,” said Leonard Nimoy, a 15-year Lake Forest resident. “We’re tired of being held hostage by Rick Dewante.”

The preliminary estimate to reconstruct the infrastructure of Dewante’s private water company is $2.7 million, but how that sum will be divided among Lake Forest business owners, residents and the Tahoe City Public Utility District remains to be seen, said assessment engineer Wally Auerbach at Wednesday’s special board meeting.

“Our recommendation is to find a way to allocate the benefits between the residential per parcel and the commercial per acreage,” Auerbach said.

Other expenses that need to be considered are the acquisition of the Lake Forest Water Company, the relocation of private water lines, the cost for individual water meters and other unforeseen financing expenses, Auerbach said.

Considering the potential economic gain from procuring new customers, the Tahoe City Public Utility District may contemplate footing the bill for the acquisition, but the cost is undetermined and a decision has yet to be made, said Alan Harry, administrator of planning and public works.

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Meanwhile, residents and business owners continue to feel concerned over the quality of their water and the threat a wildfire poses to the neighborhood.

“A fire in our area would be a disaster,” Nimoy said. “We want very much for the TCPUD to take over … and if people in the area can afford it, it should be done as soon as possible.”

Business owner Debbie Hogan said her No. 1 concern is safe drinking water for her employees, so she’s been hauling water jugs from her Tahoma residence to her Lake Forest business daily.

“To me, it’s shocking that a company in charge of something so important to everybody has allowed the system in Lake Forest to get so bad,” said Hogan, owner of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services Inc.

The health department has confirmed that Lake Forest water is currently safe to drink, but Hogan said after a 2-year-old faucet at the office began to slow, an employee unscrewed the tap to investigate.

“The filter was completely full of sand. The water could barely come through the spigot,” Hogan said. “I’m definitely willing to pay to improve this system.”

Lakeside homeowner Darlene Bray said she agrees the benefits will outweigh the potential costs, but she’s concerned second homeowners in Lake Forest may not hold the same outlook.

“If people aren’t up here all the time, it might not be as big of a concern. Discretionary bucks are not plentiful right now,” Bray said. “However inequitable it is, we as homeowners have to be ready to shell out.”

Meanwhile, Dewante said he’s unsettled with the ongoing rumors about his water system.

“For people to think I could ever deliver unpotable water is absurd,” Dewante said. “There is much miscommunication.”

As property owners start pinching pennies to save for the upgrade, the utility district is also investigating possible funding sources to ease the burden, Harry said.

“We could find funds out there to offset these costs, but how much, we’re not sure yet,” Harry said.

The next assessment update should be completed within 30 days, at which point the district will hold another board meeting, Harry said.

“We should be able to share tighter estimates with property owners and with the board,” Harry said.