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Legal delays ahead for clean water

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

Donner Lake residents may not see the construction of a water treatment facility for the next few years.

In their Aug. 31 meeting, Truckee Town Council voted 4 to 1 to uphold the appeal filed by Donner Lake Village Resort over the location of the proposed surface-water treatment facility after hearing conflicting hydrologic reports describing flood potential at Gregory Creek.

The surface water treatment plant was mandated by the California Department of Health Services in 1991. Del Oro purchased the water system in 1993, but because of continued design modifications and environmental studies the company has yet to build the facility.

More than 1,200 water customers at Donner Lake have been under a boil water notice since June 22, after a notice issued by state water regulatory agencies stated that low pressure and water outages in the system increased the possibility that the water could become contaminated and cause illness.

Patience is wearing thin for many Donner Lake residents, now that it appears a new treatment plant may be delayed for some time.

“The decision is not a surprise, considering the politics going on up there,” said Janet Wheelin, a resident of the San Francisco Bay area who owns a second home at Donner Lake. “I have no desire to go up there anymore.”

Kim Boelk, a long-time resident at Donner Lake, said that she supports the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s efforts to acquire Donner Lake Water Co.

“The Town Council decision doesn’t surprise me. The hatred that is involved between Donner Lake Water Co. and Donner Lake Village Resort will go on indefinitely… Having the PUD take over the system is the best thing we could do.”

The California Public Utility Commission will hold a meeting tonight in San Francisco, and will review the $5 million State Revolving Fund loan slated for construction of the proposed water treatment facility and replacement of the main at South Shore Drive.

The proposed location for the treatment facility, at the northwest corner of Donner Lake, is near Gregory Creek, which flooded in 1997.

“First and foremost we’re very disappointed,” water company President Bob Fortino said. “We feel we could have addressed any environmental concerns in a much more expeditious manner than an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)… The town’s decision will continue to delay clean, quality water to Donner Lake customers.”

At their meeting, Town Council heard conclusions from a new hydrologic report completed by Mike Sullivan Consulting Engineers and submitted by Tom Archer, the attorney for Donner Lake Village Resort. The report described flood potential at Gregory Creek to be 700- to 900-cubic feet. According to this report the location of the proposed treatment site is within the 100-year flood plain.

However, the hydrologic report completed by Philip Williams and Associates, and funded by Donner Lake Water Co. estimates flood potential at Gregory Creek to be approximately 500- to 600-cubic feet. At this rate, the location of the proposed treatment plant is not within the 100-year flood plain.

“In light of the two conflicting reports it would be very hard not to ask for an EIR,” Mayor Maia Schneider said.

Currently there is no EIR for the proposed location of the plant, only a negative declaration of the environmental impacts and relevant mitigated measures.

“The council found that there was substantial evidence for environmental impact that hasn’t been mitigated, and that will necessitate a focused EIR,” Town Associate Planner Gavin Ball said.

Town Engineer Dan Wilkins is skeptical of the new hydrologic report, which was submitted less than two days before the appeal.

“Any time we receive things at the last minute it makes things difficult. It puts the council in a difficult position,” he said.

Wilkins concluded that the report was not submitted with enough time to adequately assess its accuracy.

“The new report looked at streams on west shore of Lake Tahoe, Blackwood and Ward, and then determined what the 100-year flood flow would be at those two creeks. There wasn’t a lot of detail on how they made the estimation. That was the first jump The second step would be to draw a correlation between Blackwood Creek to Gregory Creek There appears to be some holes in the report. I did not have enough time to evaluate whether or not it was accurate or not,” he said.

Town Council will meet Sept. 21 to solidify actions taken in the meeting Aug. 31.


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