Forest Service will get its water |

Forest Service will get its water

The potential disaster of the U.S. Forest Service losing a water supply for its South Shore recreation area has been averted for the summer – and likely beyond that.

The Lukins Brothers Water Co., which has supplied water to the area since 1992, will supply water through Sept. 30.

By that time, the South Tahoe Public Utility District, South Shore’s primary water purveyor, should have a contract with the Forest Service to provide water until June 2000. By that time, a more permanent agreement likely will have been reached between STPUD and the Forest Service.

“I support both the short-term and long-term (plans),” Jim Jones, president of the STPUD Board of Directors, said Wednesday at a public STPUD meeting. “There are some concerns, but I don’t think there’s anything we can’t work through. I think the consensus from this board is to push ahead.”

A contract dispute between the Forest Service and Lukins Brothers had lasted more than a year. The Forest Service was fighting a proposed rate hike and the desire of Lukins Brothers for the agency to sign a five-year contract. However, Juan Palma, forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said he cannot enter the agency into a long-term contract.

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, and the private water company needed the money to pay for improvements to its system to accommodate the Forest Service. It wanted the long-term contract for assurance that the improvements would be needed.

The disagreement reached its climax late last month when Danny Lukins, president of the water company, said he planned to discontinue water service to the area, which includes Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitors Center at Taylor Creek and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake.

After STPUD officials indicated their plans to take over service, Lukins changed his mind.

With the imminent loss of the Forest Service as a customer, there was no longer a need for a long-term contract. In order to avoid a water crisis in the popular tourist area, Lukins this week agreed to the short-term contract for this summer.

Chris Strohm, vice president of STPUD’s board, said Wednesday that the ability of the Forest Service and Lukins Brothers to reach that agreement was incredibly beneficial to STPUD.

“You’ve really averted a critical, tough decision for the district today,” Strohm said.

The public utility district, which has shut down more than one-third of its wells because of MTBE, is enforcing mandatory water-usage restrictions this summer. Taking on a new customer would create further hardship for the district’s system. However, district staff say STPUD likely could handle the additional water usage if necessary. The Forest Service area would only use about 1 percent of STPUD’s capacity.

STPUD’s water system supplies about 30,000 people through about 12,500 connections. In the summer, because of tourism, the total population served is as high as 60,000.

The public utility district is planning to drill a new well on Forest Service land near Camp Richardson later this summer. Whether STPUD will continue service to the Forest Service area beyond June 2000 depends on the capacity of the well. However, STPUD officials hope it will provide enough water to fulfill the Forest Service’s demand and be used to help the rest of the district’s over-stressed system.

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