Oller has a plan to flush out fires | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Oller has a plan to flush out fires

Andy Bourelle

If Lake Tahoe’s representative on the California Assembly gets what he wants, Alpine County cows and crops won’t be the only ones taking advantage of South Shore’s treated wastewater. Firefighters might be able to use the stuff, too.

When residents flush their toilets in South Lake Tahoe, that water is shipped to the South Tahoe Public Utility District and recycled. Then a 26-mile pipeline transports the waste out of the basin, where it is used to irrigate more than 2,000 acres of ranch land in Alpine County.

By state law, STPUD is not permitted to release any of its recycled water into the basin. While it is cleaner than some of the water served in Los Angeles, it is high in nutrients that ultimately would lead to algal growth in Lake Tahoe.

However, Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller, R-San Andreas, introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow Tahoe area firefighters to use recycled water for firefighting purposes. STPUD has sponsored the bill.

“Local and state fire officials have long worried about the devastating impact a catastrophic fire could have in the Tahoe Basin,” Oller said. “The use of recycled water could make the difference in saving lives, property and protecting the environment in Tahoe.”

Assembly Bill 446 would allow the use of recycled water during a fire emergency when other sources of water are unavailable or exhausted. The bill states that the fire incident commander on the scene would have the authority to determine “that severe harm to life, property or the environment may occur if recycled water is not used.”

Mary Lou Mosbacher, member of STPUD’s board of directors, said she has been working toward resolving this issue for more than 10 years.

“I think it’s something we should be doing,” she said. “I’m not guessing they would use it indiscriminately, but when you have fire that can endanger people and property, I think in those emergency situations we should be able to tap into it. I’m not saying it should be the first line of defense. God forbid if we ever have a major conflagration; we’ll take it from wherever we can get it.”

STPUD’s export pipeline transports about 1.7 million gallons of recycled water out of the basin each year. In the district’s 1998 construction phase, workers installed “stub-outs,” so that it could later provide access to the pipeline if this, or similar, legislation is passed.

The pipeline runs through Christmas Valley, south of Lake Tahoe, where many of the homes acquire their water from private wells instead of STPUD.

If the Lake Valley Fire Protection District could use the pipeline’s export water, that would help firefighting in that area, officials believe.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California agency responsible for protecting water quality in the region, has concerns it would like to see the Legislature address before passing the bill.

“If it was just there to put out a house fire, that really wouldn’t be a problem. But if they’re testing hydrants, where does that water go? That’s our concern. How is that nutrient-rich water controlled so it doesn’t end up in the groundwater or surface water?” said Lauri Kemper, director of Lahontan’s Lake Tahoe office. “

STPUD officials believe those issues will be addressed.

“We have made a commitment to Lahontan that we won’t pursue this until we’ve worked out any problems they may have. But the loss of life is an important enough cause for using recycled water in the Tahoe Basin,” said Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer.

Tahoe City, Incline Village and other Lake Tahoe sewer providers also transport their wastewater out of the basin.

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