Upgrade: Tahoe City searches for water funds
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY “-Tahoe City Public Utility District officials say they are hoping a federal effort can be launched to find the millions of dollars needed to upgrade the Tahoe Basin’s aging water system.
A bistate fire commission report released in May said much of the Tahoe Basin’s water system is incapable of providing enough flow to successfully fight a wilfire like the 2007 Angora Fire or the smaller Washoe Fire that destroyed four homes outside Tahoe City in August last year.
The Tahoe City utility’s own analysis of its system concluded that “extensive infrastructure work” is needed to meet a state fire code updated in January this year.
Director of Utilities Tony Laliotis said more than $26 million in projects has been identified to improve the Tahoe City system, although not all of that money would go toward improving water flows for firefighting.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Laliotis said of the estimate. “These are 40- to 60-year-old water systems.”
The Tahoe City utility delivers water to 3,800 customers. Much of its system was acquired from private water companies set up to serve specific subdivisions, and the district remains interlaced with more than a dozen water systems still in private hands.
Although the district water lines have in many cases been upgraded to provide adequate fire flows ” established by the state to be 1,500 gallons per minute for two hours ” the private companies don’t face the same stringent requirements.
Alan Harry, administrator of planning and public works for the utility, called the system a “patchwork quilt.” He noted that last year’s Washoe Fire started within the boundaries of private water company but moved into the district’s territories. There, Laliotis said, crews had better access to fire hydrants.
At the time of the fire on Washoe Way, North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw said the private water system had neither the amount of water nor the water pressure to allow crews to effectively fight the blaze. Tahoe Park Water Company operator Rick Dewante agreed; the private company’s 40,000 storage tank was about the tenth of the size needed to for fire suppression, he said.
“We need to have the flow to fight (that kind of fire),” Harry said. “But (TCPUD’s) capabilities are pretty darn good compared to private water companies that have no storage.”
Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Jim Gibbons of Nevada declared a state of emergency for Lake Tahoe in late May, hoping the two states could take quick action to improve the Basin’s firefighting capacities. One way, the commission reported, was to improve fire flows.
But Laliotis said that’s likely going to require the federal government, which owns 75 percent of the Tahoe Basin, to take the lead to find funding.
The bistate commission also recommended a Basin-widen study of the water system, but that hasn’t been started yet, officials said.
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