State warns North Tahoe neighborhood’s water users | SierraSun.com

State warns North Tahoe neighborhood’s water users

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA pipe transports water out of Lake Tahoe for Lake Forest Water Company. The small water provider started using lake water again.

More than 100 homes and businesses in Tahoe City are being served water the State of California deems potentially unsafe to drink.

Lake Forest area homeowners received phone messages last week notifying them that Lake Forest Water Company again started supplying unfiltered water from Lake Tahoe on July 31.

“We couldn’t keep the tank full, so we had to go back to lake water as a supplement,” said Rick Dewante, who operates the private Lake Forest system as well as Tahoe Park and Skyland Nielson water companies.

“As far as the advisory, it’s not a boil-water notice. It’s short of that, just an advisory. If you want to take the precautions you can boil the water,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

Lake Forest Water Company has been under fire for water quality and supply issues for several months. For years the company supplied chlorinated lake water, but turned off the lake connection in February.

Since then, Dewante has been supplying his 118 customers with water purchased from the Tahoe City Public Utility District through a small, 2-inch connection ” until now.

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Residents are also concerned with a lack of adequate fire suppression.

The neighborhood hosts two fire hydrants, but the ineffectual water pressure means the fire district would need to truck in water in the event of an emergency.

To receive adequate water flow, the entire system would need replacement, Dewante said.

Cost estimates for system replacement hover around $1.6 million.

And while the risk of fire is a concern to Dewante, he said he is concentrating on water quality and supply.

“I’m not mandated to provide fire flow. I’ve focused on the water supply, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

Several Lake Forest residents are both concerned and enraged over the state of their private water company. About 20 home and business owners met privately Saturday to discuss their worries and wishes. Ultimately, they agreed they want clean water and adequate flow for fire suppression.

Seventy-two percent of the homeowners previously signed and submitted a petition to the Tahoe City Public Utility District board of directors requesting the district take over the private water company.

The board accepted the petition July 26 and voted to spend up to $25,000 to have the water system appraised.

But Lake Forest residents are concerned that the process won’t move quickly enough.

“We’ve got water-quality problems, we’ve got inadequate fire resources and we’ve got property value loss, so what are we waiting for?” Lake Forest homeowner Leonard Nimoy said at Saturday’s meeting.

Dewante also attended the private meeting to answer residents’ questions. Many of the ratepayers were curious about his interest in keeping control of the private water company ” “What’s in it for you?” they asked him.

“[I want] to operate and improve business plans, to supply potable water to everyone at a fair cost,” Dewante responded.

But homeowners remained suspicious. The problems have gone on far too long, they said, and they wanted answers.

“All of us have property values negatively impacted by your system,” said Lake Forest resident Darlene Pearson Bray.

Water-quality issues have returned to the forefront to some residents. According to the Department of Public Health, unfiltered surface water is assumed to be unsafe to drink. There is a risk for giardia and cryptosporidium, which both cause gastro-intestinal problems.

At least one Lake Forest man has attributed his stomach ills to the drinking water and has since consumed only bottled water. In March Lake Forest business owner Garrett Carlson said it was the unfiltered lake water that was causing him pain and discomfort.

“Chlorination alone doesn’t really make the water potable,” Dewante agreed.

Within the boundaries of the water company, both rental units and a restaurant serve the public. Susan Smith, who owns 11 rental units, is particularly concerned for the health and safety of her tenants.

“I’ve given every single one of them a water filter,” Smith said. “These are young people, they could get sick, and they can’t afford to go any other places.”

Bacchi’s Inn, a longtime Tahoe City establishment, is also served by the private water company. H.H. Hunter, who runs the restaurant with her family, said the business never received a notification that the water might be unsafe. When past water-quality issues were raised, she sought the help of her environmentalist daughter.

“We checked into it ourselves and found it wasn’t polluted,” Hunter said. “It’s a crock ” saying the water is undrinkable, getting these people in a panic. It’s not undrinkable, it’s just a power play.”

Hunter said they have never had any reported problems with their water. She said she doesn’t inform customers about the water quality because she says it’s not an issue.

“All I want is service. I don’t care who gives it to me. I want fresh water, which we’ve always had,” she said. “This is one of the purest lakes in the world and if they’re complaining, that’s nuts.”

Officials from the California Department of Public Health said the restaurant should be notifying its customers and even posting the notice in a prominent location in the building.

“People with immune-depressed systems can be more vulnerable to the diseases caused by the organisms [giardia and crypstosporidium]. But it’s difficult to say whether or not they are present because they’re difficult to monitor for,” said Mike McNamara, senior engineer for the department’s drinking water program.

“Because of the risk of those two organisms in the supply, potentially the water may not be safe to drink,” he said.