Water war wages on | SierraSun.com

Water war wages on

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunGarrett Carlson owns a business in Lake Forest. He started having intestinal problems in December that only subsided once he stopped drinking the water from his office. Customers of Lake Forest Water Company want the Tahoe City PUD to consider taking them over.
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If a group of Tahoe City private water customers band together, they may soon get their wish to see their water purveyor taken over by the Tahoe City Public Utility District.

At a district board meeting Friday, directors approved the adoption of two policies ” on water system acquisitions and providing service to private water companies ” and provided a formal petition form for Lake Forest Water Company customers to collect signatures requesting the takeover.

“The next step is to see where the customers go with this petition,” said district General Manager Bob Lourey.

District staff also presented results from a water supply study conducted by Sacramento-based Nolte Engineering.

“The results were that we can serve both connections to the Lake Forest water system without complicating our water system operations if there are some revisions made to one booster station,” said Lourey.

The district has already incorporated in its master plan improvements for that booster station at Rocky Ridge, whether or not the district provides the permanent Lake Forest connection, said Cindy Gustafson, the district’s assistant general manager.

The upgrades might be moved up the priority list depending on the situation with the Tahoe City neighborhood, she added.

Booster station improvements would cost approximately $30,000, officials with the utility district said.

The Lake Forest Water company, operated by Rick Dewante, has been under fire for months over allegations of inadequate water quality and emergency service. Dewante also runs Tahoe Park and Skyland Nielson water companies on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore; both have allegedly had water contamination and supply problems.

Wally Auerbach, an engineer and Lake Forest homeowner, is spearheading efforts to circulate a petition supporting takeover among the 150 or so homes and businesses within the Lake Forest water company’s service area. Two-thirds of Lake Forest Water Company customers must sign the petition for the utility district to consider purchasing the system, he said.

If adequately supported, the petition would create an improvement district under California water codes, Auerbach said. But funding the system takeover is still in question.

“What we don’t know is how much we’ll be able to cover from other sources of funding,” he said. “The water system in Lake Forest was built two lifetimes ago, so it is totally out of date and totally inadequate to meet even basic needs of its customers.”

Earlier this year, 70 percent of Lake Forest Water Company customers informally agreed that changes with the water system were in order, Auerbach said.

The new, formal petition will begin circulating at the end of the week and will be accompanied by background information on problems with the water company.

“We need adequately sized water mains, we need fire hydrants and we need to be connected to a potable source of water,” said Auerbach.

Now that the utility district knows that it has the capacity to serve the 100-plus private water customers in the Lake Forest area, Dewante said he is hopeful.

“The good news at the meeting is they can ” with some modifications … to the pump station ” they can serve me,” said Dewante. “But the question now is will they?

“My ideal plan is to secure a permanent supply of water from the Tahoe City PUD and implement my capital improvement program to replace the system,” Dewante said. “The other benefit Lake Forest Water has, is our style is like mom-and-pop business where service is number one. We offer quick response 24/7 … and we’re committed to avoid anything costly.”

Dewante said he is tentatively planning a homeowners’ meeting in July, when he will present cost estimates on his Lake Forest water system improvement plan.