Dry wells provoke water debate
Several complaints of disappearing well water on Prosser Dam Road and accusations that a new golf course using Truckee Donner Public Utility District wells might be to blame, sparked a heated debate Wednesday night at a district board meeting.
The audience swelled to over 60 in the humid board room in Truckee, as participants heard conflicting testimony from a district water expert and Truckee-area residents unhappy about a dropping water table.
East West Partners, owners of Gray’s Crossing, did not send a representative to the meeting, although several Prosser Dam residents have notified the large resort developer of their concerns.
As district Water Manager Ed Taylor presented the utility’s position that The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing has nothing to do with nearby dry wells, some audience members greeted his assertions with jeers, laughter and insincere applause.
Taylor identified several reasons why the golf course’s daily use of 1 million gallons of water for irrigation does not impact neighboring private wells.
Water drawn by the district from the Prosser Village Well, three-quarters of a mile from Prosser Dam Road, is not exclusively used for watering the golf course’s expansive turf, Taylor said. The district’s 12 wells that supply Truckee with drinking water are drilled as deep as 1,200 feet, and the extracted water is stored in central locations before distribution. Taylor also noted the presence of impermeable layers 300 feet below the district wells. The most compelling argument, he added, was that monitoring of water depth in the district’s wells showed no change in the amount of available water in five years.
After hearing the district’s evidence, Truckee residents lined up at the podium.
Utility Director Ron Hemig then recused himself of further involvement in the issue, citing conflict of interest. Hemig’s real estate firm Hemig and Erle has at least one house listed for sale on Prosser Dam Road.
Bob Yoder, a Prosser Dam Road resident and real-estate agent, whose well went dry a few weeks ago, presented his personal evidence.
“Several people’s well levels have dropped 15 feet. How much water per day do both golf courses [Gray’s Crossing and Old Greenwood] use?” Yoder asked. “And what does that mean for our neighborhood?”
Northern California has suffered a dry winter but many of the residents did not believe that one dry year can make tried and true water sources dry up.
“None of these wells went dry during the dry years of the ’80s and ’90s,” said Rusty Pauli, a longtime Truckee resident. “It’s a little bit of a coincidence that [after the installation of the golf course] these wells are going dry when they are 30 years old.”
In an earlier interview, the district’s Taylor said the problem at the 30-year-old Prosser development is that several wells in close proximity are all drawing from an aquifer that recharges slowly because of poor transpacity, or permeability.
“Transpacity is how fast water runs through the ground,” said Taylor.
He added that he thinks the aquifer has exceeded its sustainable yield, the amount of water a well can provide and still recharge.
After nearly two hours of discussion, board President Tim Taylor empathized with the angry residents.
“I sympathize with this situation and I believe that the [the district] has a responsibility; I think we need to talk with [water expert] David Carlson.” he said. “We need to come to a mutual agreement, we shouldn’t accost each other.”
In the meantime, the utility directors agreed that the water shortage, whatever its cause, must be addressed immediately.
Installing a temporary pipeline or supplying water trucks were among the suggestions that the directors and utility General Manager Peter Holzmeister discussed as possible quick fixes. Holzmeister also suggested that affected residents should conserve as much water as they can.
On Thursday a group of residents paid more than $300 apiece to have their wells tested by a well-testing firm based in Reno.
“I haven’t had any trouble yet but I thought I’d be proactive,” said homeowner Ben Moule.
Moule’s well water level turned out to be 65 feet ” 2 feet below last year.