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Donner Summit weighs water needs

In response to proposed development plans at Royal Gorge, Sierra Lakes County Water District has hired a water rights attorney and is conducting a hydrologic study of the summit’s water needs.

The push to protect Donner Summit’s natural resources is nothing new since the owners of Royal Gorge revealed their plans in March, said Wade Freedle, president of the water district’s board of directors.

But the Royal Gorge proposed development does pose an alarming predicament, considering the wild card of recent drought conditions, Freedle said, adding: “What happens if it continues?”



Sierra Lakes district homeowners rely almost exclusively on the summit snowpack, with Lake Serena and Lake Dulzura providing the majority of the district’s water supply, he said. The district has a capacity for 1,050 subdivided lots and currently serves 770 existing housing units with sewage permits for 802 units, Freedle said.

“We are a utility and we cannot run out of water,” Freedle said.



Royal Gorge owners Kirk Syme and Todd Foster call the proposed project “a conservation community” that would serve as a gateway to the outdoors, enhance wilderness education and offer recreational opportunities.

Development of Royal Gorge has been a topic of sometimes-heated discussion for Donner Summit residents since Syme and Foster purchased the resort more than a year ago. The new owners plan to develop portions of the 2,900 acres of land surrounding the resort.

The conceptual plan proposes the addition of 950 residential units to Royal Gorge, with plans to build four camps in clustered development, with each camp assigned a different theme.

“We see our Summit as a heritage… and we will do what needs to be done to protect that,” said Bill Oudegeest, a Sierra Lakes water district board member and president of the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association board of directors.

Sierra Lakes water district will take no action regarding Oudegeest’s involvement in both organizations, Freedle said, as the district aims to maintain an objective attitude.

Royal Gorge developers searched unsuccessfully last summer for another potential groundwater supply, but plan to continue exploring the possibility of another water source, said Project Manager Mike Livak of Royal Gorge.

Based on preliminary plans, Royal Gorge may receive about 72 percent of its annual water needs from wells owned by the Sierra Lakes district. Livak said it’s too soon to say how Royal Gorge’s water requirements will affect the summit’s supply.

The first step is to identify the current water flow of the wells, and then examine conditions under extraordinary circumstances, he said.

Freedle said the results of the hydrologic study on the summit will be telling.

“Obviously this year with minimum precipitation, it’s going to be a critical test,” Freedle said.

Dredging Ice Lakes and portions of Lake Serena to protect future water supply is one potential idea Royal Gorge is discussing with the water district, Livak said. The construction of a water reservoir west of the Serene Lakes neighborhood is another possible source of additional water. Royal Gorge is also looking at Lake Angela, a supplier of Donner Summit Public Utility District, as another viable source.

“We have a long way to go before we’ve developed a plan for water supply,” Livak said.

Royal Gorge representatives and the water district board will discuss concerns with the summit water supply during the board’s scheduled meeting June 8, Freedle said.


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