Tempers high at Donner Lake meeting as water boil order enters third week | SierraSun.com

Tempers high at Donner Lake meeting as water boil order enters third week

The meeting on Monday, July 10 to discuss the water emergency declaration at Donner Lake drew a crowd of about 100 boiling mad residents who voiced disapproval with Donner Lake Water Company and the government agencies responsible for regulating water safety and service.

“The meeting held this week … clearly showed a lack of leadership among the various agencies to deal with the ongoing issues,” wrote Truckee Mayor Maia Schneider in a letter to the editor printed in today’s Sierra Sun. “The meeting was unproductive as the state and corporate representatives provided ambivalent and unproductive responses to citizen queries. It was obvious that even between state agencies there was no productive dialogue taking place.”

Del Oro Water Co., which purchased Donner Lake Water Co. in 1993, was mandated by the State Department of Health Services to provide a surface water treatment plant at the lake. Following two time extensions, two rate increases and roughly seven years, the water company has yet to build the treatment facility.

To add to the dilemma, on June 26, the water company issued a notice that Donner Lake residents must boil all water before using it and declared a water emergency that will be in effect until further notice.

The meeting was turned over to the residents of Donner Lake, who approached the three individuals moderating the meeting, Donner Lake Water Co. president Bob Fortino, Public Utilities Commission Water Division representative Leslie Tench, and Bert Ellsworth, supervising sanitary engineer for the State Health Services Department.

Angry lake residents voiced strong disapproval of the handling of the situation to date.

“Water is a health issue,” said Janet Brady, a Donner Lake resident and health professional. “It can cause cancer.”

“Quit blaming Truckee,” she demanded of Fortino. “It’s your responsibility to provide us safe, clean water. I want a water expert to tell us what kind of water filter I can buy. And if I’m paying you for water, I want you to provide water for us to drink, not a spigot where I can obtain water I can’t drink.”

Rob Eskridge, a Tahoe Forest Hospital board member present at the meeting, summed up the situation by alleging the project has consistently failed because of a lack of leadership.

“All we’re hearing from you [Bob Fortino] is long term solutions. What we want right now is short term plans,” Eskridge said.

Fortino stated that his improvement project is the proposed $3.7 million water treatment facility. Currently the treatment facility is indefinitely delayed, and the water company has not announced plans to provide alternative sources of potable water.

“Why haven’t you provided any potable water trucks?” asked Jody Sweet, a Truckee resident.

Fortino responded that he is looking into providing vending machines and will research the matter further.

Health services engineer Bert Ellsworth said that funds set aside for the project cannot be used to buy bottled water and that to his knowledge, there are no under-the-sink water filters approved by the state. The only state approved water filter, explained Ellsworth, costs around $11,000 per home.

“What we want is action to solve the problem,” explained Walsh Canmy, a Donner resident, “up the timeframe.”

Tench explained that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss the boil water notice, or alternative plans, but to discuss the water emergency and the public’s stance on the potential moratorium on new connections. The utilities commission requires the meeting to officially impose a mandatory water conservation policy.

Tench also asserted that the commission would not be taking an active role in the meeting, and that she was only present as an observer. Comments from the meeting would be incorporated into a report, said Tench, that will be presented to the utility commission Aug. 3.

After hearing shouts of criticism and charges of inaction, Tench defended the utility commission, saying “the commission was not aware of the problem.”

Tench then explained that residents should contact the commission Consumer Affairs Branch to officially file a complaint regarding billing or service at 1-800-649-7570 or to file a complaint online at http://www.cpuc.ca.gov.

No one was able to say when the boil water notice may be removed, although Fortino suggested that by imposing the mandatory rationing, the safety of the system may improve.

Ellsworth concurred with Fortino, and said that if the water system is able to make temporary improvements and not run out of water, it will decrease the risk of bacteria.

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