EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been clarified from an original version to update a quote from John Wilcox, which now correctly reads: “... (It was) a shortage of wells that was restricting us, not the shortage of supply.” Further, Dwight Smith, principal hydrogeologist for InterFlow, also was misquoted. His statement now reads: “I do feel like we have a credible, objective analysis before you that relies on sound professional judgment.” In addition, while Squaw Valley Real Estate is indeed financing the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan Water Supply Assessment, we’ve updated the story to indicate it had no influence or participation in the findings of the report.
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — A “sufficient supply” of water exists in Olympic Valley to support the proposed Squaw village expansion project and other future demands, a recent report has concluded.
“There’s been so much misinformation in the press, on the Internet, all over the place,” John Wilcox, a Squaw Valley Public Service District director, said at a Tuesday board meeting. “I think most people in the community think that Squaw is running out of water … and today we hear that we have a study that says there is enough water.”
In making that determination, the report weighs existing, project and non-project demand for the next 25 years, against supply during normal, dry and multiple dry water years.
According to the draft Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan Water Supply Assessment, estimated water demand by project buildout (2040) will be 1,205 acre-feet per year, up from the average 843 used today by SVPSD, Squaw Valley Mutual Water Company, Resort at Squaw Creek and Squaw Valley ski resort.
The SVPSD is the largest water purveyor in the community and has been identified as a potential water supplier to the Squaw expansion, which calls for 1,493 bedrooms, 750 lodging units and recreational amenities to create an all-season, world-class resort.
MORE WELLS NEEDED
While the valley’s existing wells — mostly located in the western portion of the aquifer due to higher productivity and water quality — are capable of producing more water than is used in the valley, additional wells will be needed to meet projected demands by 2040, according to the report.
Four extra wells are estimated to meet village project demands, while at least two additional wells will be needed to meet SVPSD non-project demands by 2040.
“We were never able to get any more wells and spread them out because the (former owner) wouldn’t allow us to drill any new wells on their land,” Wilcox explained. “... (It was) a shortage of wells that was restricting us, not the storage of supply. When the ownership changed to the ski corporation, then the atmosphere changed about new wells.”
The analysis identifies that the average saturated thickness in every western municipal well — the six new SVPSD proposed wells and existing ones — should not fall below 65 percent for three consecutive months (or more than four times over 228 months).
“... We are going to keep water levels in about two-thirds of that aquifer saturated, and if we can do that and produce enough water, we’re going to say there is ample water to meet demand,” said Derrik Williams, president of Oakland-based HydroMetrics Water Resources Inc., who helped prepare the assessment.
The report concludes that can be done with “an adequate margin of safety even during single and multiple dry years.”
In order to ensure accuracy of the assessment, Truckee-based InterFlow Hydrology was hired to independently review the draft and supporting evidence.
“I do feel like we have a credible, objective analysis before you that relies on sound professional judgment,” Dwight Smith, principal hydrogeologist for InterFlow, told the board of directors.
Squaw Valley Real Estate — which is under the umbrella of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings — is financing the water assessment’s budget of $157,000, said Mike Geary, SVPSD general manager. In addition, it’s covering InterFlow Hydrology’s contract, which is roughly $13,500.
While Squaw Valley Real Estate financed the budget, it had no influence or participation in the findings of the report, an official said. SVPSD defined the scope for the study, and its consultants were selected and supervised by SVPSD.
Not everyone is on board with the report, however.
“For years officials have been telling us that the existing water supplies in Squaw Valley do not provide a secure and adequate source of water for existing customers, let alone new development,” Peter Van Zant, field director for Sierra Watch, said in a statement, referring to SVPSD’s search for an additional water supply. “We either have water or we don’t, but we can’t have it both ways.”
“That’s a little bit out of context,” Geary said when asked to respond. “We have enough water right now. We’ve never run out of water, but we as a water purveyor having redundancies in source is just the standards of the industry.”
Finding a redundant water supply has been on SVPSD’s radar the past 25 to 30 years — predating the proposed village expansion plan — in the event the aquifer is compromised and its water cannot be used for a period of time.
Sierra Watch is engaging Sacramento-based Tully & Young, a water planning firm, to study the draft assessment and better understand the science behind Olympic Valley water.
Since a timeframe for how long Sierra Watch will use the firm’s services is unclear, a cost estimate is unknown, but no “cap” will be put on it, said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch.
SQUAW PLEASED WITH REPORT
The analysis comes at time when California is in a state of drought emergency.
“The drought reminds us that water at the crest of the Sierra is a severely limited resource,” Mooers said in a statement. “Our goal is to ensure that any new development respects not only the unique sense of place in Squaw Valley and the Tahoe Region but, also, its limited natural resources.”
Comments received during Tuesday’s board meeting, along with other input, will be considered in producing a final assessment, which will be presented to the SVPSD board at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 29, at the SVPSD building at 305 Squaw Valley Road.
That document will serve as a technical appendix for Placer County’s draft Environmental Impact Report for the village project, said Alex Fisch, project manager for the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan.
That draft EIR is anticipated to be released between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.
“We are pleased with and confident in the thoroughness of the PSD and their water resource experts’ analysis of the aquifer in the valley,” Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, said in a statement. “We look forward to the county issuing the EIR, as part of the required CEQA process, giving everyone the ability to ask thoughtful questions and provide meaningful comments.”
A determination on the final EIR will be made by the Placer County Board of Supervisors.