Lake Forest Water Company hears criticism from water users
In front of California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Victor Ryerson and Lake Forest Water Company owner Richard Dewante, customers spoke out against lack of fire protection and an inadequate supply of potable water.
Originally designed to help direct the official transfer of Lake Forest assets to Dewante’s Tahoe Park Water Company, the public hearing turned into an airing of grievances as customers spoke against Dewante’s private water company.
North Tahoe Fire District public Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw called for a “sense of urgency” in attaining adequate water flows in the water system, noting the small private water purveyor had limited ability to afford necessary upgrades for fire protection.
Whitelaw also added there is approximately $150 to $200 million of capital improvements needed over a 20 year period to achieve adequate water flow throughout Placer County water systems, not just Dewante’s.
Potable water was another concern for customers, most of whom were unaware of their tap water quality.
“Many of us are buying bottled water because no one has told us to date if the water is safe to drink,” said Howard Ridgecreek, a 30 year Lake Forest resident.
While the hearing’s public comments routinely got off topic, Judge Ryerson constantly had to redirect focus back to the legal transfer of Lake Forest assets to Dewante, stressing that a legal owner of Lake Forest has to be named before any other decisions could be made.
“It is our job to ascertain who is the owner of the company,” said Ryerson, later adding “we have to issue a decision and issue it promptly because there really is no purpose served by delaying this.”
Given the opportunity to speak before the start of public comments, Dewante set out his plans to improve the Lake Forest water system, similarly stressing a prompt decision would ensure resolution.
Dewante said the State of California is ready to give money to solve the water supply proble in the form of Proposition 50 funding, and his current proposal is to dig a new well with a backup plan to treat water pulled from Lake Tahoe, a far more expensive alternative.
“[Grant money] is not pinned to any project in particular,” said Dewante, “It can be anything, any amount; it’s to solve the problem,” later adding the the application for the grant has been approved to proceed pending the resolution of the ownership issue.
While Dewante believes the issue can be resolved soon and in a relatively inexpensive matter, he worries that Tahoe City Public Utility District interference would prolong the ownership dispute.
“The PUD is really interested in acquiring Lake Forest Water Company,” said Dewante. “That would then drag the thing out further and perhaps interfere again with this ownership … and jeopardize this grant, and I think that would be the worst outcome for everybody.”
Walter Auerbach,an engineer hired to assess the Lake Forest water system and Lake Forest resident, disagreed with Dewante, saying the water system should be in the hands of the utility district.
“The value we as residents would receive with investments of funds by Mr. Dewante is unknown, speculative and not the same value we would receive should the funds be utilized by the Tahoe City PUD,” said Auerbach, later adding, “These are uncertain times and we need our local government to step in and assure us our basic services and needs will be met.”
While many ideas were discussed at the public hearing, all parties agreed something needed to be done quickly.
“Please, whatever you do, do it quickly,” said Whitelaw.
Taking public comment into account, Judge Ryerson’s proposed decision will be given to a five-person Utilities Commission board for later judgment.
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