Wrangling over water | SierraSun.com

Wrangling over water

Ryam Salm/ Sierra SunThe Tahoe City Public Utility District has been asked by residents to consider taking over two private water companies with whom the residents are not satisfied.

Two private water companies on Lake Tahoe might not be private much longer if disgruntled homeowners who want the Tahoe City Public Utility District to take them over get their way.

Tahoe Park Water Company is under fire from residents because of recently increased water rates and poor-quality water. The West Shore customers approached the Tahoe City Public Utility District about buying or taking over the water company. Now the utility district is researching the acquisition of the water company, along with another water company under the same ownership.

The utility district will hold a meeting Friday about acquiring the private water companies at 9:30 a.m.

“We’re really kind of stuck at the ‘willing seller’ issue,” said Bob Lourey, Tahoe City Public Utility District general manager. “We know that there is strong support from [the] customers to take the water system over.”

Rick Dewante, who operates the Tahoe Park and Lake Forest water systems, knows his companies are in the crosshairs. He said he will not sell his water companies, which serve about 650 homeowners. The utility district will have to use eminent domain if it wants to take them away, Dewante said.

“I think it’s wrong for public agencies to buy private businesses,” said Dewante. “It’s my business and my livelihood.”

Dewante recently switched the Skyland- Nielsen neighborhood, served by his Tahoe Park Water Company, from Lake Tahoe water to well water to comply with environmental standards that require lake water to be filtered. The investment in the new equipment led to higher rates, he said.

But the well water has been of poor quality. High carbon dioxide levels have made the water corrosive. Tap water often comes out with residue from the copper pipes it has corroded, Dewante said.

Water tests showed the water had higher-than-acceptable levels of copper last summer.

Residents have been complaining about the discolored water in the Nielsen neighborhood for months.

The well water caused resident Annie Lang to switch to drinking bottled water, after she believes she was made sick from the water, she said in an August interview with the Sierra Sun.

Others, like resident Jeff Pelline, marveled at the irony of tainted water in homes that are a stone’s throw from the crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe.

And no one is happy about the water rates that have more than doubled to pay for the changes that have led to poorer quality water.

But the eminent domain issue is a difficult one for the Tahoe City Public Utility District. The utility has acquired more than six private water companies in the past, but all have come from willing sellers.

If the utility district did acquire the two private water systems, it could tie most residents on to the district’s regular water system, except for the Skyland-Nielsen neighborhood, which is several miles away from the nearest utility district water line, Lourey said.

“We haven’t [used eminent domain] in the past,” said Lourey. “I can’t say we would never do that. That’s a board decision.”

Dewante has requested an emergency connection to the Tahoe City Public Utility water in case electricity goes out, or any other emergency occurs. But that’s where he wants the utility’s involvement in his water system to end.

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