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Public Utility District, Del Oro seek fix for Donner Lake

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

As delays continue for Donner Lake Water Company, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District is moving forward with plans to acquire Donner Lake’s water system and present a financial proposal to area residents.

“I think we need to do everything possible to expedite the Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s ability to take over the system,” said Loretta Lynch, president of the California Public Utility Commission, in a meeting Sept. 7.

“That said, it’s also important for Donner Lake to explore all possible options for providing the best service to its customers in the most efficient way possible, including transferring this water company to Truckee Donner Public Utility District.”

Peter Holzmeister, general manager of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District (TDPUD), met with a consultant Wednesday, Oct. 11 to determine how much time will remain before the assessment district is complete.

The assessment district is the financial cost associated with acquiring the water system at Donner Lake and rebuilding the existing infrastructure. It is separate from water rates, which cover the cost of operation and maintenance.

When the assessment district is complete, the TDPUD will hold a special ballot where residents and businesses at Donner Lake can assess the price for having TDPUD acquire the water system. A simple majority will determine whether or not Donner Lake residents desire the TDPUD to continue efforts to acquire the water system.

“In the long run I think we may be presenting a very similar cost to Donner Lake residents [compared to the cost levied by Donner Lake Water Company],” said Holzmeister.

“So far what [Bob Fortino] has proposed is part of the fix – replacing corroded pipelines and tanks. TDPUD will go in there, and in a short period of time, replace everything.”

In a letter to area residents, Donner Lake Water Company alleged that TDPUD desires the water rights for Donner Lake to solve Truckee’s existing water shortage, which may in turn impose on the service for water customers at Donner Lake.

“Given Truckee’s existing water shortage and long-term water needs, we understand TDPUD’s interest in acquiring the Donner lake water system,” wrote Donner Lake Water Company President Bob Fortino. “But a transfer of those rights to Truckee may not be in the best interest of Donner Lake residents and may itself raise environmental issues that prevent TDPUD from promptly resolving… water problems.”

But Holzmeister asserts that Fortino’s letter contains two inaccurate statements.

“It would be legally impossible to use water from Donner Lake to supply other areas,” he said. “The water rights are limited, and in fact Bob Fortino’s water rights are limited to a portion of Donner Lake.”

According to Dean Evans, Director of Public Utility Commission’s Water Division, Donner Lake Water Company possesses water rights to only 900 acre-feet of Donner Lake.

The second statement Holzmeister feels is inaccurate is the assertion that TDPUD would run out of water if Truckee had “a series of maximum day events (days when there was maximum water usage).”

“We did have a series of maximum day water usages and never ran out of water,” Holzmeister said.

However, to insure that TDPUD has continued water supply for its existing customers the company will be drilling new test holes for water supply this fall. The company approved the proposal by Nimbus Engineering to do the test holes in its meeting Wednesday, Oct. 4.

“We have hired a consultant to locate better water well sites in Martis Valley. We know there is lots of water out there in the Truckee basin… we just need to find the right places to drill,” Holzmeister said.

The TDPUD board also approved several action items slated for Donner Lake.

— The board authorized staff to file the proposed Negative Declaration for replacing pipes, storage tanks and plans for a water treatment facility at Donner Lake. The board also authorized staff to file the Environmental Initial Study with the Office of the Nevada County Clerk.

— The board authorized staff to circulate the two documents with responsible and interested agencies and with the State Clearinghouse.

— Staff will also publish a Notice of Public Review and Public Hearing.

“The result of the that action,” explained Holzmeister, “is that a 30 day clock is ticking to see if someone out there is going to object to the legal declaration.”

At the present the TDPUD plans include a surface water treatment facility for Donner Lake, but Holzmeister said he would still like to continue investigating water from wells.

The location of TDPUD’s proposed treatment facility is different than the location of the facility proposed by Donner Lake Water Company and will not depend on the result of the Environmental Impact Report.

Meanwhile, Donner Lake Water Company has acquired a $100,000 loan through State Revolving Funds to plan for the replacement of corroded pipes and storage tanks.

The audit of Del Oro Water Company, the parent company for Donner Lake Water Company, is expected to be complete by the end of October.


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