Douglas County may buy Tahoe water rights |

Douglas County may buy Tahoe water rights

Jeff Munson

An offer to Douglas County from a Lake Tahoe family trust that owns basin water rights will be revisited sometime in the coming weeks.

The attorney for the William and Elizabeth Rabe Trust told county commissioners Thursday that the family is interested in the deal but isn’t yet prepared to list terms of an agreement for the water rights.

Douglas County wants to buy the rights for $750,000, which would give 56.6 acre feet of water to augment the county’s Lake Tahoe water supplies. The money would be paid over a six-year period.

“No pun intended, but water rights value is a fluid thing,” Jason Woodbury, attorney for the Rabe family, told commissioners at Thursday’s commission meeting.

If a deal is penned, another 8.4 acre-feet would be donated to the county after the final payment in 2013, according to those close to the deal. The rights allow water to be pumped out of Burke Creek.

In four of the last seven years, Douglas County has pumped more water than permitted from Lake Tahoe. Legislation passed during the last session could mean fines of up to $10,000 per day for over pumping, which has ranged between 3 and 34.5 acre feet.

Water use dropped in 2005 and 2006, leaving a surplus of 82.5 and 67 acre feet respectively, but future needs and growth are expected to increase consumption to between 56 and 73 acre feet at build-out, according to county figures.

The current annual allotment for the Douglas County portion of Lake Tahoe is 759.8 acre feet.

“Sometimes we’re over, and sometimes we’re under, so we’re looking at what we may need for ultimate buildout,” said Douglas County Engineer Carl Ruschmeyer.

These are surface water rights and can’t be transferred out of the Lake Tahoe basin, Ruschmeyer said.

Estimates put the cost of an acre-foot at about $13,250, said one-time County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who now represents Terra Firma Associates LLC. He and his son, Dominic, an attorney, were both present at Thursday’s meeting.

The water rights, which date from January 1861, are owned by the William and Elizabeth Rabe Trust and are located on Burke Creek and Folsom Springs.

“Any transaction would, of course, be contingent upon successful transfer of the point of diversion, place and manner of use of this water by the Nevada State Engineer to the county,” Etchegoyhen said in a letter to commissioners. He deferred comments at the board meeting to attorney Woodbury.

County commissioners appeared eager to negotiate a deal, which would keep the county out of legal troubles as water usage in the basin continues to grow.

In comparison with water systems in Minden and Gardnerville , “$13,250 an-acre foot is a reasonable price” said Commissioner Kelly Kite.

In other business, commissioners gave the first reading on an amendment to the Lake Tahoe vacation rental ordinance, defining on-site parking spaces and limiting overnight parking to on-site assigned parking spaces.

— Susie Vasquez of The Record-Courier contributed to this story.

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