Squaw tests water injection to store valley’s drinking water
By the looks of it, you’d think the drilling rig parked in the Squaw Creek meadow was poking an 180-foot hole to suck water from the Squaw Valley’s aquifer.
But it’s quite the opposite, according to General Manager Rick Lierman of the Squaw Valley Public Service District. Lierman’s district is investigating whether the district can use the well to inject “a bubble of good water” into the aquifer.
Water quality has been a concern in Squaw Valley since the 1990s when a series of 17 new wells dug in the valley all proved unusable because of the poor quality.
The most pressing problem is that most of the water has too much iron and manganese to be used for drinking water even if treated, Lierman said.
So the district came up with the idea of pumping groundwater from the wells that provide relatively pure water ” near the Squaw Valley parking lot ” and re-injecting the water into the meadow’s aquifer to store for the late summer and fall months when water is scarce.
“This is a technology that is being used all over the world,” said Lierman.
The good groundwater would be pumped in the spring, when water is abundant. As it is injected into the meadow below ground, the district hopes the soils allow the good water to pool up in a bubble and push the subterranean iron- and manganese-laden water out of the way.
The district would then recover the injected water during the dry summer and autumn months to be used throughout the water district.
Without storing water in the aquifer, the Squaw Valley Public Service District would run out of drinking water as the valley builds out, said Lierman. The district would then be forced to investigate either building a water treatment plant or importing water from another location.
Currently, the district supplies about 800 acre-feet of water in the valley. When Olympic Valley builds to capacity, the demand for water is expected to balloon to 2,200 acre-feet, said Lierman.
And the district estimates only about 1,550 acre-feet of water could be extracted from the valley on a consistent basis without sucking other wells dry.
Ed Heneveld, chairman of the Friends of Squaw Creek, said he supports the idea of storing good water in the meadow’s aquifer.
“I’d prefer that we were self-sustaining in our own valley,” said Heneveld of the valley’s water supply. “We just need to hang on to the water we get a little better.”
Heneveld said he hopes conservation and the storage of water in the aquifer can help the public service district avoid importing water or building a water treatment plant.
As the drilling rig, which sits on plastic mats and rubber tracks to keep the meadow undamaged, drills, technicians analyze the soil discharged from the hole, giving clues to the composition of the underlying aquifer.
The project, which includes plans to dig three test holes, will cost between $200,000 and $250,000, Lierman said. The district is paying for the work through grants from the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and the Placer County Water Agency.
It’s a lot of money to pay on a solution that is still a question mark, but for Lierman, whose district is charged with providing drinking water to the valley, it’s one of few options.
“We have to show that we’ve made every effort to provide water,” said Lierman.
Many customers are interested in the project for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the project may be able to inject new life back into Squaw Creek, which habitually runs dry in the fall.
“A lot of people are watching us pretty closely,” Lierman said.
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