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Water supplier remains under fire

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Garrett Carlson owns a business in Lake Forest and is a self-professed water-holic. He said he didn’t know the source of the intestinal problems that were causing him pain and discomfort for weeks at a time beginning last December until he found out that he was drinking unfiltered lake water.

“There’s not doubt in my mind that water is poisonous,” Carlson said. “I believe it wholeheartedly because I experienced it firsthand.”

Carlson said he stopped drinking his tap water about a month ago and has since felt fine.

The Tahoe City Public Utility District decided Tuesday that they will consider taking over or providing water to private water companies on a case-by-case basis.

The water company that serves Carlson’s home and two other West Shore water companies owned by the same operator have been under scrutiny for months. Residents have asked the utility district to step in.

Lake Forest, Tahoe Park and Skyland Nielson water companies, all operated by Rick Dewante, are under fire for water quality and emergency service problems.

The Lake Forest water company has been supplying unfiltered lake water to residents and has no emergency fire connection. The Tahoe Park system does not have emergency water supply and copper was detected in the Skyland Nielson neighborhood’s water two years ago, but at levels only slightly above the warning threshold, according to an EPA official.

Nearly three years ago Dewante asked the district to connect Lake Forest to the district’s groundwater system. And last year he requested an emergency permanent connection for the Tahoe Park system, but the district still needs to determine whether it has the capacity to supply both.

Since February’s public forum, when some Lake Forest residents learned their water was not potable, Dewante has closed the pipe bringing in lake water and is serving the 180 customers with district water through an emergency connection.

Dewante said he, too, was unaware that the water he was supplying was not potable.

In an effort to allay the district’s concerns about wasted water, Dewante said he checked and fixed leaks in the distribution system and the tank, and is only using 30,000 to 40,000 gallons a day. Payment for his outstanding bill to the water district is in the mail, he said.

“The ideal solution is the one that delivers potable water for the least cost,” Dewante said.

If the utility district agrees, Dewante would like to continue buying district water to supply to his customers.

“We feel [the district] is a viable, if temporary, source of water,” Dewante said.

The board decided that each private water company will be evaluated independently before a takeover. They unanimously voted in favor of the policies that lay groundwork for the district to take action in acquiring and providing water to private water systems.

At the April board meeting the directors will officially vote on the policies.

The board decided not to set the percentage of dissatisfied water customers needed to spur a takeover. Each decision will go to a separate vote.

“We know we’re hearing from a pretty vocal group asking [us] to take over their water system,” said district General Manager Bob Lourey.

Additionally the public had the opportunity to comment on district policy.

Representatives from the California Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Health Services were not present at the workshop.

Results are in on the study conducted to determine whether the utility district has the capacity to serve Lake Forest Water Company customers.

“At this point the study doesn’t tell us that we can’t find a way of doing it, but we need to work through those issues,” Lourey said.

The reports raised more questions than answers. Further studies will determine if additional pump stations are necessary to maintain water pressure to current customers when providing water to an additional 200 or so Lake Forest residences.

“It sounds like the water is there in the pipes, it’s getting it to move faster,” said district board director Ron Treabess.

The district will likely know by May whether they have the capacity to serve Lake Forest, and the associated costs, Lourey said.

Dewante said he is waiting for further study results before going forward.

“Until they tell me what it’s going to cost, I can’t tell you [what I’m going to do],” he said.


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