Donner Lake crisis may be nearing endgame | SierraSun.com
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Donner Lake crisis may be nearing endgame

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

Water woes for residents at Donner Lake have been quiet during winter, but that may end soon.

As temperatures rise, water use increases and pipes thaw, the reliable stream of drinking water during winter may groan, sputter and spurt to a dry wheeze if repairs aren’t made this spring.

The situation may take a new direction, however, as several state and local entities will meet in Truckee before a California Public Utilities Commission judge to discuss funding, ownership and resident concerns.

The hearings will focus on Donner Lake Water Company’s request for funding, which increased recently from $12 million to nearly $15 million, bringing the total cost higher than the Truckee Donner PUD’s estimate to purchase and rebuild the system.

But repairs leading to the end of the boil water notice and water emergency declaration may be in sight.

The California Public Utilities Commission March 27 granted authorization for Donner Lake Water Company to borrow $1.4 million to begin emergency repairs on the distribution and storage system.

The cost, once the financing is received, will be levied on Donner Lake customers in the form of a surcharge of about $12 per month.

While loan authorization may lead to distribution repairs that are long overdue, Donner Lake Water Co. officials said they don’t know when construction work may begin. Prerequisite administrative work will continue for the next several weeks.

The company has accepted a bid for a lake intake and has begun applying for permits, said Heather Milne, spokeswoman for Donner Lake Water Co., but the applications with the Town of Truckee are still under review.

“By granting interim relief, we make it possible for the water utility to immediately begin replacement of its distribution system,” wrote Glen Walker, administrative law judge for the CPUC. “Even if the utility is acquired by another entity, this is work that must be done under the Department of Health Services order.”

Preliminary review of the work will be required by CPUC officials and the Department of Health Services for reimbursement from Donner Lake customers.

The PUD, meanwhile, continues to move forward with plans to acquire the system.

Kristen Lowell, an independent engineer working on the assessment district for the PUD, will open the ballots April 5 in Auburn.

The ballots, sent to each property owner at Donner Lake, will ultimately determine the PUD’s role in the Donner Lake water crisis.

“How fast will she be able to tabulate the ballots is not known,” Holzmeister said last Thursday.

About 900 ballots have been received, which is roughly half of the current property owners at Donner Lake.

If the PUD receives a simple majority vote, the board could vote as early as April 9 to begin the acquisition process, and the process leading to capital improvement funds.

Holzmeister said he believes the PUD will be able to begin construction work this summer even if the board goes forward with the condemnation process.

“Things will definitely move faster if Fortino decides to sell the water company,” Holzmeister said.

PUD officials met with Donner Lake Water Co. officials last Thursday to discuss purchasing the water system.

“(Donner Lake Water Co.) appeared to be open minded about selling the company, but that is as far as it went,” Holzmeister said.


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