TAHOE CITY, Calif. — With 2013 being the driest calendar year locally on record and 2014 getting off to a similar start, Tahoe officials are encouraging water conservation.
“Every gallon a customer conserves will help preserve the necessary water resources available during a drought situation,” said Tony Laliotis, director of utilities for the Tahoe City Public Utility District. “Conserving water in the winter is just as important as conserving in the summer.”
His recommendation comes days after the first 2014 Sierra snowpack survey near Echo Summit found 9.3 inches of snow depth, with 2.3 inches of snow water content, about 20 percent of the long-term average.
“Snowpack directly correlates to water supply, so I think it’s very important,” explained Steven Poncelet, public information and conservation manager for Truckee Donner Public Utility District.
While the Truckee PUD hasn’t seen an impact on its water levels due to prolonged dry conditions, Laliotis said the Tahoe City PUD is starting to see the effects.
In general, TCPUD water sources are a few feet below normal levels for this time of year. It’s a concern, Laliotis said, but not at a critical level.
“We are confident with customers conserving water, and the district’s internal leak detection and correcting program, water supplies will not reach critical status this summer even if the drought conditions continue,” he said.
More than 90 percent of TCPUD’s water comes from groundwater wells drilled deep into underground aquifers, with rain and snowmelt being the main replenishers, he said.
“Where as an aquifer has some (storage) in it, a river really doesn’t” said Poncelet, adding that the Truckee PUD is strictly a groundwater agency. “It’s either getting fed or it’s not.”
For that reason, those who rely on surface water sources such as rivers and lakes are more closely tied to yearly precipitation fluctuations than those who rely on groundwater, he said.
“Because we rely on just a few big winter storms in December, January and February to build our snowpack and refill our reservoirs and groundwater basins, there is still some potential for relief,” said John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, in a statement.
According to the National Weather Service’s extended forecast Tuesday afternoon for Truckee/Tahoe, there is a “slight chance” of snow Wednesday and Thursday night. There also is a chance of showers Saturday.
“One giant storm can turn it around,” Poncelet said.
In the meantime, Laird is calling for residents to curb water use while state officials — as directed by Gov. Jerry Brown — meet regularly to monitor conditions and assess whether a drought declaration is needed.
On March 30, 2011, Brown declared the official end of the state’s drought following the 2010-11 winter. The drought declaration was made by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in February 2009 after three relatively dry winters.
“The lack of precipitation in the last three seasons is an unfortunate reminder that water is a limited resource, and that water conservation is a critical factor to preserving its availability,” Laliotis said. “Water conservation should be a 24/7/365 reality for all of our customers and not just limited to drought years.”