Squaw continues search for another water source | SierraSun.com

Squaw continues search for another water source

Margaret Moran
Squaw Valley Public Service District is searching for a redundant water supply in case of an emergency, such as contamination, since it only has one water source — the valley aquifer.
Margaret Moran / mmoran@sierrasun.com | Sierra Sun

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — This year’s mild winter is further highlighting Squaw Valley Public Service District’s need for a secondary water source.

“It’s another stressor,” said Mike Geary, SVPSD general manager. “Basically, drought is just another one of those vulnerabilities we have to being able to fulfill our mission to provide safe, reliable water.”

While SVPSD has a “sufficient supply” of water for its 1,556 residential units and 39 commercial/institutional entities — and has never run out of water in its nearly 50 years — Geary said the district has been actively looking for another source.

District customers include the Resort at Squaw Creek, Village at Squaw and all of Squaw Valley, except for Gold Coast and High Camp, Geary said.

SVPSD has only one water source — a 1-square-mile aquifer that ranges in depth from 75-150 feet, with the district’s five wells located near the village, Geary said.

“If something happens with our ability to use this source — whether it’s contamination, earthquake or drought — then we would have a secondary source that we could draw from,” he said. “It’s kind of a standard for a water purveyor to have that secondary source.”

As for snowmaking, Squaw Valley doesn’t rely on SVPSD water, but rather groundwater that is stored in the Gold Coast pond, said Melissa Brouse, public relations coordinator for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

“We have not been in danger of running out of water,” she said Thursday.

Water and development

Finding a redundant water supply has been on SVPSD’s radar for the past 25 to 30 years — predating KSL’s proposed village expansion plan, Geary said.

Yet the two are often viewed as being linked, said Tom Mooers, executive director of the regional conservation group Sierra Watch.

“The issue of exporting … water to serve Squaw development is a reminder of how interconnected the Tahoe Sierra is,” he said. “So when we consider an issue like KSL’s development proposals, we’re talking about a lot more than a parking lot. We’re talking about Truckee, Martis, Lake Tahoe — and beyond.”

While KSL has stated there is enough water in the valley aquifer to support its proposed development, an assessment is under way to determine if enough water is there to meet existing and future demands anticipated for the next 20 years, according to the district.

It’s unknown when the assessment — prepared by SVPSD and funded by KSL — will be complete.

“We’re very much looking forward to working with these guys and increasing our water supply locally here, but it doesn’t address our problem of gaining redundancy and having that secondary source,” Geary said.

Martis Valley option

After examining potential water sources such as Pole Creek, Deep Creek and Cabin Creek — all ruled out due to either poor quality or environmental constraints — a 2009 study concluded Martis Valley as the best option.

“Although we’d have an uphill battle with communicating that because of the perception it would have of Squaw stealing Truckee’s water, we knew that the science was behind us,” Geary said.

The 2013 Martis Valley Groundwater Management Plan study found the total supply in Martis Valley is between 32,745 and 35,168 acre-feet per year, with Truckee build-out demand at 21,000 acre-feet per year, and Squaw at approximately 1,500, leaving excess water.

Tahoe Donner Public Utility District, Northstar Community Services District and Placer County Water Agency are the three main public agencies that depend on the Martis Valley for water.

“(TDPUD) is determined to ensure that our customers will in no way be harmed by efforts from Squaw Valley to access water from Martis Valley,” said Steve Poncelet, public information and conservation manager for the district.

SVPSD is currently reviewing options it’s already explored and any potentially overlooked alternatives before proceeding with project details, which is expected to be completed in December, Geary said.

The Martis Valley option cost has been estimated at $30 million, he said.

In conjunction, the district envisions installing a utility corridor to Squaw for natural gas, and fiber optic cable along with a secondary water source, with a bike trail constructed over it.

As for where funding would come from, it’s unknown besides applying for grants, Geary said.

“I think people are hearing where we are at the project, and they know it’s some years off,” he said.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.