Water quality, shortages concern Donner residents
Recent water shortages, pipe leaks, discolored water and a perceived lack of communication from the Donner Lake Water Co. are hot topics among some Donner Lake residents who are frustrated and concerned about their water.
Sparked by a water outage following Fourth of July weekend, some residents have been vocalizing their concerns among their neighbors, or to Del Oro Water Co., which runs Donner Lake Water.
“We pay a lot of money for our water and nothing is being repaired. We have leaks all over that have been there for years,” said Donner Lake resident Emily Kashton.
Kashton said that when her water came on after the Fourth of July weekend outage, it came out brown. But she said she never received a notice about the water or the discoloration.
“They’re not keeping their customers up to date. This is stuff we’re drinking and we should know what it is. There’s no communication there,” said Kashton.
According to Nevada County Environmental Health Department and the state Department of Health Services officials, Donner Lake Water is currently in violation of surface water treatment for not having a water treatment plant and filtration system. The water is currently being treated with chlorine at the source.
“They are moving forward, but its at a snails pace and it has been that way for a couple of years,” said Kathy Polucha of the Nevada County Environmental Health Department.
Donner Lake Water was issued a compliance order in August 1993 to provide surface water treatment. The order required them to be online, meeting all water treatment standards by September 1995, said David Lancaster, associate sanitary engineer with state Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management.
Del Oro bought Donner Lake Water in August 1994 and requested an extension on building the water treatment plant until September 1996. At that time, Del Oro requested a rate increase from the California Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the most cost-effective treatment plan, which was granted in 1995. Del Oro is regulated by the state Department of Health Services and the California Public Utilities Commission.
According to Lancaster, the company kept requesting compliance order extensions when they began to hit a series of obstacles. They had to secure a funding source to finance the project, get engineering plans and designs approved and purchase a location for the treatment plant that residents did not protest.
“They are all delays that have been unfortunate. We see progress, but we just keep coming into road blocks. You either have to go around them or go through them,” said Lancaster. “It’s not really unheard of for a project of this nature to take time. There are a lot of projects to incorporate.”
Lancaster is currently drafting a revised compliance order which will reflect firm milestones and deadlines. The new deadline for the treatment plant is Dec. 1, 2,000. Now that Donner Lake Water has changed their funding source from a private source to the state revolving fund, which provides a low-interest loan and the preliminary draft plans are all in place, the only obstacle left is passing through the environmental process and waiting for construction season.
“We have the preliminary draft plans, the funding mechanism is in place … we should be going out to bid shortly,” said Lancaster. “Now we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lancaster said the state has allowed so many extensions because they have seen progress on Del Oro’s part.
“Del Oro suffers from taking on bad relations from a previous owner which has caused a strain with the current owners and the public and possibly the lack of public awareness of the current situation,” he said.
The chlorine level of Donner Lake tap water is currently at 3.0 parts per million. Typical drinking water has a chlorine content of .22 ppm, said Palucha. She said Donner Lake Water upped the chlorine level to kill giardia.
“(Adding chlorine) is not acceptable as a mitigation for most water systems. (Del Oro) has known about this for many years and it should have been taken care of a long time ago,” said Palucha.
Lancaster said the a chlorine level of 3.0 ppm is required by the state because of a lack of filtration system.
“Right now they are compensating for not having a filtration system. The chlorine content will be reduced to near non-detectible levels when the filtration system is completed,” said Lancaster.
Bob Fortino, president of Del Oro Water Co., explained the company is moving forward with plans for their water treatment plant, which has an estimated cost of $2 million. The plant is part of a $3.5 million capital improvement project which includes the replacement of a 12-inch main line and a new 500,000-gallon storage tank.
“The bottom line is we have a $3.5 million project that is before the state,” said Fortino. He said the new plant will solve a number of problems including fire flows, water quality and the volume.
“Since the customer can’t see anything yet, it’s logical for them to think that nothing is being done. It’s just a very arduous process. There’s no reason for us to want to delay this,” he said. “We have a very short construction period. To the customer, without seeing the tractors out there, it appears nothing is being done.”
Lancaster said the capital improvement project will eliminate the major leaks in the system, increase the water supply and the quality of the water.
“Everybody is discouraged. These things take time, but I feel good that it is going to get done,” he said.
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