Liberty Utilities addressing increased tree mortality risk in Lake Tahoe Basin
June 12, 2018
Liberty Utilities recently announced its intent to ramp up efforts to identify and remove dead and dying trees that pose a risk to the utility's infrastructure.
The announcement comes at a time when California's forests continue to reel from the effects of drought, disease and infestation. In the span of a year 27 million trees died across California due to drought and bark beetles, bringing the total number over the last 10 years to an unprecedented 129 million, the Tribune reported in December.
In its announcement, Liberty said it has tripled the number of inspectors used to identify potentially hazardous trees. The program is designed to reduce the risk of power outages, potential wildfires, and to comply with state regulations.
"Years of drought have left many of the trees in our service territory vulnerable to disease, particularly damage by the bark beetle," explains Eliot Jones, Liberty Utilities' manager of vegetation control and regulatory compliance, explained in a press release. "We want to be as proactive as possible to reduce both outage and wildfire risks related to hazardous trees falling onto our poles and lines."
Last month, state fire officials confirmed that trees coming into contact with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power lines started four Norther California fires which eventually grew into the deadly wine country fires, the Associated Press reported. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection indicated that three of the fires might have been prevented if PG&E had made a greater effort to keep trees clear of its power lines.
Liberty Utilities has been authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to spend up to $2.5 million each year on vegetation management programs in order to maintain the CPUC requirement to keep trees, branches and other vegetation surrounding utility infrastructure trimmed back to reduce outage risks.
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According to the utility provider, it is increasing its efforts this summer to go beyond its annual vegetation management program.
"In 2015 California declared a state of emergency as a result of the vast tree mortality that has occurred in parts of California as a result of severe long-term drought and subsequent bark beetle infestation. The Lake Tahoe Basin includes two of the 10 highest priority counties," Jones said. "The CPUC subsequently is allowing utilities to supplement their routine vegetation management practices which we are significantly ramping up this year."
Qualified tree inspectors are currently working along the 57-mile length of Liberty's power line that serves the Tahoe City area. As high-risk trees are identified, another contractor will remove the hazards, according to the utility provider.
"We work closely with property owners to inform them about hazardous trees on or near their property that pose a risk to our lines," Jones added. "Often times, these trees can pose a risk to their homes too. While some of the identified trees may not look diseased or dying, our inspectors are able to determine whether bark beetles have compromised the tree."
Jones noted that any tree on private property that must be removed remains the property of the landowner. Liberty Utilities' contract crews will remove the tree limbs and dispose of them, but the tree log itself belongs to the property owner.
"We'll often cut the tree log into 4 foot lengths so the property owner can more easily handle the wood as they see fit," Jones said. "Overall we find that customers understand and appreciate the need to remove trees that pose a risk to our infrastructure, the forest and sometimes their homes."
Jones expects that crews will continue their work in the Tahoe City area throughout June and will continue working along the West Shore and other parts of the service territory affected by tree mortality as long as necessary.
More information about Liberty Utilities' vegetation management program can be found on its website at http://www.libertyutilities.com under the Safety link at the top.