Squaw Valley scrubs water restoration | SierraSun.com

Squaw Valley scrubs water restoration

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun file photoIn October, General Manager Rick Lierman of the Squaw Valley Public Service District examined a soil sample from a hole drilled into the meadow. The district planned to inject water into the aquifer beneath the valley floor, but disappointing test results have scrubbed the project.
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A project aimed at providing millions of gallons of quality water to the residents and businesses of Squaw Valley has failed.

The valley’s water supplier designed the Aquifer Storage and Recovery project to boost supply by pumping potable water out of the west end of the valley and injecting it into the eastern portion of the valley floor.

Wells drilled in the valley’s lower, eastern portion have traditionally yielded water tainted with manganese, iron, sulfates and other contaminates, said General Manager Rick Lierman of the Squaw Valley Public Service District.

By collecting the water in the spring while the water table is high, the recovery project would have created an underground reservoir of good water that pushed out the bad, and provided storage for use during the drier summer and fall months.

As technicians drilled the planned 180-foot injection well, they hit an impermeable layer of glacial till at 97 feet, Lierman said.

“We quit at 110 feet because [the material] is as dense as concrete, with no voids for storage,” Lierman explained.

He said the ideal soil for water storage is a porous mixture of loose gravel and sand.

Despite wanting to persist with the drilling, Lierman said he finally heeded the advice of geologists and engineers to abort the aquifer recharge well at 110 feet.

Even those opposed to additional commercial development in the valley say they wanted the service district to persist in the project.

“I thought it was a good idea [to keep drilling], but the experts said no,” said Carl Gustafson, a member of a environmental group Friends of Squaw Creek.

Lierman was not discouraged at shutting down the project that was projected to cost $200,000, and said the district will use the data to refine a computer model and better predict future water supplies.

Since 2003, the district has entered new data into the model, resulting in a downward trend of forecasts for what is available within the aquifer.

“The district’s goal is to understand the aquifer so that we can make educated decisions,” Lierman said.

With the district supplying 600 acre-feet per year to its customers, and an estimated annual limit of 1,560 acre-feet, a little wiggle room still remains for projects like the Resort at Squaw Creek’s phase II, with 22 new condominiums.

Other district plans to procure water include rebuilding one district well to make it more efficient. Also, the district is beginning a process to study the feasibility of importing water from other parts of the Truckee-Tahoe area, Lierman said.

Still in the conceptual stages, an underground pipe could supply supplemental water to Squaw Valley, Lierman said.

The district is also awaiting approval of an application to use surface water from the Truckee River, although that application has a significant hurdle ahead of it, the yet-unfinished Truckee River Operating Agreement.

One more option would be double piping, a scheme that Lierman said would essentially create two water systems, one for drinking water and another for irrigation. The contaminated water from the east end of the valley could then be used to water golf courses and other irrigation needs.

Although the future of water availability is still uncertain in the Olympic Valley, trends indicate a water table smaller than originally predicted, Lierman explained.

Back in the mid-1980s when ground water issues were beginning to be looked at, experts predicted 4,000 acre-feet of water would be available.

Now, Lierman said with better science and stringent parameters regarding groundwater use, crews have found the available water is more like 1,560 acre-feet per year.

Lierman said at build-out, predicted to occur around 2068, the valley will need 2,200 acre-feet a year, far beyond the aquifer’s sustainable yield.