California drought: More work needed as water conservation sees positive results at Lake Tahoe, Truckee | SierraSun.com

California drought: More work needed as water conservation sees positive results at Lake Tahoe, Truckee

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — While residents' efforts to conserve water are helping, officials say locals must continue such practices as a multi-year drought grips California and other western states with no immediate relief in sight.

In 2014, the Tahoe City Public Utility District pumped 413.3 million gallons of water, slightly above the lowest production amount on record — 408.4 million gallons in 1980.

"These results are really astounding, especially when you consider we had just over 2,900 water connections in 1980, and today we have over 4,100," said Tony Laliotis, director of utilities for the district. "When comparing water produced per connection, (2014) was more than 40,000 gallons per year per connection less than in 1980."

Due to extended dry conditions, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January 2014 and urged water conservation, calling for a 20 percent voluntary reduction among Californians — a request local agencies, including TCPUD, publicly supported.

Besides customer conservation in response to the drought — which led to roughly 53 million fewer gallons of water produced in 2014 from 2013, about a 12 percent reduction — Laliotis attributes the lower 2014 production number primarily to the installation of residential water meters.

The meters can detect potential leaks, he said, and they allow for tiered rates based on consumption and the district to conduct internal audits to identify water loss.

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Meters were installed between 2007 and 2009. During that period, district water production went from 645.38 million gallons in 2007 to 501.45 in 2009.

Since 2007, TCPUD water production has decreased by more than 232 million gallons, or 36 percent, according to the district.

MAXIMIZING SUPPLY

Nearby, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District has also witnessed a water production decrease, going from 6,978 acre feet in 2008 to 5,149 acre feet in 2014, said Steven Poncelet, district public information and conservation manager.

This comes amid a 2.7 percent growth in water customers over that period, to 12,668, by the end of 2014, he said.

Poncelet attributes the roughly 26 percent water production decrease to installation of water meters, a main line replacement project and district-sponsored conservation programs for customers.

"Every gallon we conserve in or out of house is one less gallon we have to pump," Poncelet said. "… It helps us maximize the supply we do have."

In April 2014, Brown directed the California State Water Resource Control Board to adopt emergency regulations to ensure urban water suppliers implement drought response plans to limit wasteful water practices.

Soon after the July board adoption, TCPUD, TDPUD and the North Tahoe Public Utility District passed mandatory water conservation restrictions.

While some NTPUD customers have cut back water usage, others have increased usage, said Pam Emmerich, district technology and public information administrator.

"We need our customers to work harder to conserve water," she said. "… We will be working harder in 2015 to inform those high users and encourage them to reduce their usage."

The NTPUD produced and treated 423.3 million gallons of water in 2014 compared to 449.6 million gallons in 2013, according to the district. Previous production numbers include 453.79 million gallons (2012), 444.28 million gallons (2011) and just under 484 million gallons (2010).

Fluctuating production numbers doesn't necessarily mean water use is being reduced, Emmerich said. They can change based on weather patterns — impacting irrigation, visitation numbers and pipes freezing and leaking — water main replacement projects and improved internal accounting of unaccounted water.

CONCERNS ABOUT RUNNING OUT OF WATER

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 67.46 percent of California is in "extreme drought" and 41.20 percent (including the greater Tahoe-Truckee area) is in "exceptional drought" as of Feb. 17.

As a result, water levels in TCPUD's wells are lower than normal for this time of year, Laliotis said.

"We have seen them lower than they are today in years of less severe drought, so we feel good that with continued and increased conservation efforts by our customers and continued efforts by the district to reduce water loss, we will not have any drought-related water supply concerns in 2015," he said.

In Truckee, the PUD also doesn't anticipate water shortages this summer, should dry conditions persist, Poncelet said, but it will nevertheless continue to promote water conservation.

According to the National Weather Service, there's a chance for snow Friday through Sunday for the greater Lake Tahoe area.

"Drought or not, conservation is always important," Laliotis said. "… The changes people made in 2014 to conserve and the changes they make moving forward should be considered more permanent than temporary to assure a more drought tolerant and sustainable water supply in the future."

By the numbers

Tahoe City Public Utility District water produced in millions of gallons”

408.4: lowest amount recorded, with 2,953 water customers in 1980

739.9: highest amount recorded in past 34 years, with 3,918 customers in 2001

413.3: with 4,164 customers in 2014

Source: Tahoe City Public Utility District

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Prohibited potable water usages

Washing sidewalks and driveways

Irrigation runoff

Hoses with no shutoff nozzles to wash cars

Water in decorative water features that do not recirculate the water

Source: California State Water Resources Control Board.