Our View: Residents deserve recourse on water | SierraSun.com

Our View: Residents deserve recourse on water

Water is one of the most basic necessities of daily life.

So it’s more than an inconvenience when your water comes out of the tap laden with copper, is undrinkable without boiling or fails to come out of the faucet or shower head altogether, as many of the users of Tahoe Park Water Company have endured in the recent past.

These customers who depend on a private water company that services Lake Forest, Tahoe Park and Skyland-Neilsen along Tahoe’s north and west shores, have become even more frustrated when the process to fix their water predicament seems convoluted and time-consuming.

And they should be. The state commission that governs private utilities ” residents only recourse ” hasn’t been all that responsive. The only decisive action the state has taken is to approve astronomical rate increases to the users.

So residents have taken their case to the Tahoe City Public Utility District, asking the district to take over their water distribution. While no decisions have been made, customers will likely have to tax themselves fairly heavily to bring their system up to the district’s standard. We believe this is the right move.

As much as we hate to see a private business taken over by a public entity, water service is something that should be subject to public accountability.

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At the Tahoe City Public Utility District, actions of the board are held up to public scrutiny and the governance of the utility is subject to a public vote. This is something the private water company ratepayers do not have. And their appeals to a distant California Public Utility Commission have not been met with the responsiveness that a locally elected board can give.

These water problems in the private Tahoe water systems did not happen overnight. The systems, in some cases, have been deteriorating for years. Public oversight will be much more effective in assuring that the proper maintenance and investment continues on a regular basis.

Recently Tahoe Park Water Company operator Rick Dewante has outlined significant improvements for his water systems around Tahoe. But after years of what the Tahoe City Public Utility District and local residents have called poor management and maintenance, it’s hard to not question whether this ambitious program is just a last-ditch effort to appease homeowners and hang on to the company.

While we believe water users would be better served under a publicly elected board and its accompanying utility, we do not believe the company should be forcibly taken from the hands of the owner. As a person who has invested time into a private company, it deserves a fair price.

At this point it’s too early to say how the water problem will work out. But in the tense situation we can see a path toward a fairly compensated owner, water users served by an accountable public utility, and a water system that works.