South Lake Tahoe isn’t facing the same water shortages as other California communities but people still need to take steps to reduce water use at their homes and businesses, according to South Tahoe Public Utilities District and city officials.
“We have water supply sufficient to preclude rationing and sufficient to maintain landscaping. People won’t have to let their lawns go brown and everything else, but it’s going to be a long summer,” STPUD general manager Richard Solbrig told the South Lake Tahoe City Council this week.
California is in a third year of drought. With low reservoirs and meager snowpack, Gov. Jerry Brown is asking for voluntary, 20 percent reductions in water usage. State legislation adopted in 2009 requires STPUD and other water utilities to reduce their per-capita water usage 20 percent by 2020.
STPUD has 22 wells in the South Shore’s roughly 23-square-mile groundwater basin. Its customer demand for water peaks each summer at about 375 million gallons per month in July and August.
There are another 56 smaller community water wells and more than 600 private water wells tapped into the South Shore groundwater basin. The basin is expected to be stressed this year and next with limited recharge. That’s because six of the last seven years have been drier than normal and snowpack in the Lake Tahoe Basin is just 43 percent of normal going into April.
“If people don’t conserve water and take advantage of some of our water conservation programs, we’re going to have some problems meeting that demand,” Solbrig said. “We’ll have low tank levels. So to ensure adequate supply for all and for public safety, we’re all going to need to be smart and participate in water conservation efforts.”
STPUD offers a number of free water conservation programs for its water and sewer customers. Programs include water audits and use evaluations for homes, businesses and irrigation systems. The district also offers some water-efficient fixtures for free as well as rebates for high-efficiency sprinkler components, toilets, washing machines and on-demand hot water systems that can significantly reduce water use.
The district offers free leak detection assistance. Meters can help detect even small leaks that might go unseen and waste thousands of gallons of water.
More than 40 percent of the water that STPUD customers use each summer is for irrigation. Restrictions will be in place again this year with even-numbered addresses allowed to water Monday, Wednesday and Friday and odd-numbered addresses allowed to water Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Water should fall on the lawn and not the sidewalk or street. With the basin’s porous soils, many people water more than is needed.
“We ask that no one do landscape irrigation on Saturday. The reason is, that’s the highest-volume day in terms of tourists and the highest water using day,” STPUD water conservation specialist Donielle Morse said.
STPUD is offering its turf buy-back program again this year. The program helps homeowners replace water-intensive lawns with native or adaptive vegetation that requires just a fraction of the water and maintenance that grass does. Last year, the program offered $1.50 per square foot of turf up to $3,000. Since 2007, it has removed about 230,000 square feet of turf.
STPUD is one of California’s few remaining unmetered water systems. Some properties have meters, but most do not. About 2,000 more meters will be put in this summer as part of water line replacement projects. The district is considering accepting a no-interest state loan for $21.5 million to retrofit the entire system with meters as part of a five-year water and sewer rate increase that is being proposed.
All water connections in the STPUD system must be metered by 2025 under California law. Even if a property is not metered at this point, it will be in the future, so the time to start conserving water is now, Morse said.
“There are a lot of very easy ways we can all make cuts to save our water supply.”
South Lake Tahoe councilwoman Angela Swanson requested the STPUD update on the water situation after hearing about the hardships in other California cities are facing. It’s good to hear the city is in good shape with water.
“It gives us a great opportunity to start talking about how much we need to do and start looking at climate change issues,” she said.