Forest Service to stay with water supplier through summer |

Forest Service to stay with water supplier through summer

Andy Bourelle

The Lukins Brothers Water Co. may continue service to the U.S. Forest Service’s South Shore recreation area – despite it’s recent threat to shut off water – for the rest of the summer.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors Thursday discussed providing water for indoor use to the area, which includes Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitors Center at Taylor Creek and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake. The board decided not to take action, and a special meeting will be held July 7 to again address the issue.

Lukins Brothers has provided water to the Forest Service-owned land since 1992. A contract dispute between the Forest Service and Lukins Brothers has been ongoing for more than a year.

The Forest Service was fighting a proposed 86 percent rate hike and the desire of Lukins Brothers for the agency to sign a long-term contract. The Forest Service, as a federal agency, cannot enter into a long contract, according to its representatives.

Lukins Brothers officials, however, said they could not continue, over a long period of time, to provide service to the Forest Service without the increase and without the contract. The Forest Service uses 40 percent of Lukins Brothers’ capacity; it represents 20 percent of the water company’s revenue. Lukins Brothers needed the money to pay for improvements to its system to accommodate the Forest Service. It needed the long-term contract for assurance that the improvements would not be in vain.

The disagreement came to a head last week when Lukins said he planned to shut off service. He decided June 28 not to, after STPUD entered the equation.

With STPUD staff indicating it may be able to provide service, Lukins Brothers officials said they were willing to enter into a 30-day contract.

At the meeting, Danny Lukins, president of the company, said he would consider working out a deal for the summer. With the imminent loss of the Forest Service as a customer, the need for the long-term contract was no longer there.

That would help STPUD, which already is enforcing water-usage restrictions for the summer.

Pembroke Gochnauer, STPUD board member, said the district would easily be able to supply the Forest Service after the busy summer months had passed. He urged the two disputing parties to work out the short-term agreement now that the “emergency situation” had passed.

If that summer agreement can’t be worked out, STPUD has the ability to take over, according to the district’s staff.

Mary Lou Mosbacher, STPUD board member, said she was concerned because the district could be taking on a new customer while the district is asking its current ones to conserve.

Rick Hydrick, manager of STPUD’s water operations, said the district still could not lift its restrictions if it did not start providing service to the Forest Service.

“The two are nowhere near equivalent,” he said. “We have been so successful going to Stage 2 (restrictions). The Forest Service is asking for only a small fraction of what we’ve saved. The two don’t even equate.”

Hydrick said Fourth of July weekend, with its crowds of visitors, is a good test to see how effective water conservation has been.

As of 6 p.m. on Sunday Hydrick said so far, so good.

“We’re holding our own and haven’t opened any new wells that are threatened by MTBE,” he said.

Still, Hydrick said it was too early to say whether or not STPUD could handle the Forest Service contract.

“There’s still a lot of people in town,” he said. “(The Fourth of July) will be the real test.”

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