STPUD faces steep water reduction
April 29, 2015
South Tahoe Public Utilities District's (STPUD) hope to have mandatory water reductions reduced drowned on April 17 when the State Water Resources Control Board released revised numbers of California's water districts.
Instead of a lower percentage number than the initial 35 percent it faced, STPUD's number rose by 1 percent to 36 percent.
While the requirements remain in draft form until formal board adoption at its May 5-6 hearing and final say by the state Office of Administrative Law on May 15.
The mandatory water reductions come on the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown's April 1 executive order – the first in California's history – following a dismal report of the annual survey of the snow pack.
Prior to that, the governor had required only 20 percent voluntary efforts to combat the ongoing drought.
While the governor's order mandates 25 percent water reductions based on 2013 reports, the Water Resources Board's draft regulations take into consideration various districts' efforts to conserve, or apparent lack thereof.
STPUD conserved only 6 percent based on water production reports from June 2013 to February 2014 to the same numbers from June 2014 through February 2015. This places the district in Tier 9 along with 93 other districts.
The state water board will consider applying greater reduction requirements on areas that have a higher per-capita water us, or the amount of water a person uses per day.
For STPUD, the amount comes to 231.5 residential gallons-per-capita-per-day calculation.
Two other water districts in the Lake Tahoe Basin face higher-than-normal requirements. Tahoe City Public Utilities District, which conserved 12 percent, has a 36 percent mandatory reduction, while North Tahoe Public Utilities District must conserve 28 percent based on a 5 percent conservation effort.
Most of the new provisions, aside from the mandatory water reduction, are aimed at commercial, industrial and institutional properties, prohibit of using potable water to irrigate street medias and on new home construction without drip or microspray systems.
Districts that don't comply face penalties by the state, including fines of up to $10,000 per day.
Adding to water districts' problems, an the 4th District Court of Appeal on Monday, April 20 ruled that San Juan Capistrano's tiered water rates, which are based on water consumption, violates the state constitution. While the ruling applies directly to the Orange County city, it may have wide-ranging implications for the two-thirds of California's water utility companies that used tiered systems.
STPUD General Manager Richard Solbrig attempted to convince the Water Resources Board during the initial commenting period that the South Shore district has unique circumstances.
Those unique circumstances include the Tahoe Regional Planning agency's erosion control measures requiring 50 percent vegetative cover for properties to protect Lake Tahoe.
Solbrig wrote that "a sudden ad dramatic reduction in water available for maintaining these landscapes, without proved the time to properly redesign them" would increase properties to increased fire danger and eventually wildfire risk.
Additionally, all recycled water is required to be exported out of the basin under state law.
Solbrig also argued that current water conservation programs the district instituted in 2007 has lowered water production by 27 percent. He also listed the area's fluctuating tourist population as something the state has ignored.
Shannon Cotulla, STPUD's assistant general manager, on Monday said the numbers didn't carry water.
"The revised calculations are apparently saying we are consuming more water than we had been under the initial calculations," Cotulla said. "We see our consumption as a lot less than what they had calculated."
The district submitted additional information to the sate on Friday but Cotulla expressed doubts.
"Apparently these things have not been taken into consideration," Cotulla said.
He added the district has been unable to determine how the state calculated the number. Based on the district's own numbers, assuming a base population of 33,124 in its borders, the gallons-per-capita-per day should be around 181 gallons. The calculation could place STPUD in a lower tier, requiring it to reduce production by only 32 percent.
STPUD has spoken with the North Tahoe and Tahoe City utility districts about how they are working on their information, and will take advantage public comment period on the revised calculations.
However, Cotulla said he was disappointed.
"I'm displeased that all we've done to reduce water production by 27 percent since 2007 haven't been taken into consideration," Cotulla said.
Districts and the general public have until April 22 to comment on the draft regulations, which can be sent to Jessica Bean at email@example.com. The district's final chance to send its own input ends April 28. Final public comment will be available at the State Water Resources Control Board meeting on May 5.