Tahoe residents want better water
Private water companies serving three North Tahoe neighborhoods came under increasing fire from residents who gathered at a public meeting Friday to urge the Tahoe City Public Utility District to take over water service to their homes.
Lake Forest, Tahoe Park and Skyland Nielson water systems, all operated by Rick Dewante, are under scrutiny for water quality and supply issues.
Lake Forest Water Company uses unfiltered lake water, Tahoe Park has no alternative emergency supply and Skyland Nielson has copper infiltration problems. Two years ago Dewante asked the district to connect Lake Forest to the district’s groundwater system.
Currently the district is studying whether their system has the capacity to provide water to Lake Forest full-time as well as being an emergency back-up to the Tahoe Park system. The Lake Forest Water Company already has an “on demand” connection to the utility district.
Tahoe City Public Utility District General Manager Bob Lourey said the report from the hydraulics study should be available by early March. The district will then host a special meeting to review the results.
“The last thing the district intends to do is sit back and wait,” Lourey said.
Lake Forest homeowners want the utility district to take over their water system, mostly to address quality issues. Residents receive quarterly notifications about their water, which some learned Friday is not potable.
“This is the very first time saying Lake Forest water is unsafe to drink,” said Lake Forest homeowner Wally Auerbach.
Water from the lake is “assumed to be unsafe,” said the Department of Health Services’ Terry Macauley, because it comes from a surface source. More than 15 years ago both the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California said that surface water must be filtered and disinfected before deemed safe to drink.
“I’d like to see the [public utility district] take over the water system,” said Lake Forest homeowner Ava Riva. “We’re taxpayers, we’re paying taxes for that water … [we want to] have water we can drink, water pressure and for fire suppression.”
Board director Erik Henrikson lives in Lake Forest but gets his water from a well. He said he wouldn’t drink water from the Lake Forest Water Company.
Tahoe City Public Utility District board members expressed difficulty balancing private versus public enterprises when faced with issues like those of private water systems.
“As a district I really think we have a responsibility to people in the district,” said board director Ron Treabess.
Skyland Nielson homeowners would also like Tahoe City Public Utility District to take over their water system. Dewante built a new well two years ago when copper was then discovered in the water, and there is no emergency backup if power fails.
“We asked the [Tahoe City] public utility district to consider taking us over, however we haven’t demanded it,” said Skyland Nielson resident Rob Weston. “The biggest thing we really want is the water quality issue resolved.”
Weston said he thinks the public utility district has more stringent water quality requirements and a better budget and infrastructure to handle customer needs.
Some district board members agree.
“I personally think that because water distribution is inherently expensive, it is extremely subject to peaks and valleys and having a larger, single entity handling that allows for the peaks and valleys to be better absorbed,” said district board director Dan Wilkins.
But Dewante does not want to sell his water systems. He does, however, want to purchase water from the district to serve his Lake Forest customers.
“I think it’s wrong for public agencies to take private businesses,” Dewante said. “I think we should all work together for the common good of the community. I think eminent domain goes against that.”
No decisions were made Friday as to management of the private water companies because the purpose of the workshop was to address issues of the different water systems with the help of professionals from Department of Health Services, Placer County Environmental Health and the California Public Utilities Commission, Lourey said. However, a representative from the utility commissions was unable to attend the meeting.
At the direction of the board, district staff will look further into water system acquisition policies as well as rate structure options.
“I’m not opposed to selling water to private systems, as long as we have the water to sell,” Wilkins said.