Forest Service: Water issue one of public stewardship
It’s time! It’s time for the Forest Service (FS) to let the community know there is more to the situation than has been printed in recent newspaper articles regarding water issues at the Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area involving the South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD), Lukins Brothers Water Co (Lukins) and the FS. What’s been missing so far has been the position of the FS. It is our charge to manage the National Forest System (NF) lands and resources for the benefit of the American Public.
The Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area consists of Fallen Leaf Campground; Taylor Creek Visitor Center; Tallac Historic Site; Camp Richardson Resort, Campground and Stables. The water source for this area was Fallen Leaf Lake until 1992, when it no longer met the new Safe Drinking Water Act standards. Faced with closing the recreation area, the FS looked at other options for supplying drinking water to the one million visitors to this area each year.
The FS negotiated a contract with Lukins for a water supply. Rates were established based on this negotiation and were not and have never been regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) because the recreation facility was outside Lukins CPUC regulated area. Early in 1998, Lukins applied for an 86 percent increase to the rates they were charging their regular CPUC customers and unilaterally applied this increase to the FS. We didn’t feel this rate increase was justified nor fair to the public and began looking for other options.
In the fall of 1998, the FS issued STPUD a permit to begin exploration for a water source on NF land away from sources of MTBE. Later in 1999, when threatened with loss of water from Lukins, STPUD offered to supply the area with water and has been doing so since October 1, 1999. Early in the summer of 1999 a well site was selected and a permit issued to drill and develop a well and construct a pipeline. A long-term permit was discussed but timing was critical for STPUD to complete drilling prior to the end of TRPA’s grading season, STPUD choose not to wait for a long-term permit. In the development of the long-term permit, STPUD identified permit conditions they were not comfortable with, specifically the fee for the well site. It is STPUD’s contention that the fee for the well should be no different than the fee for land used for the pipelines or tanks currently under permit. Because the FS is looking at the policy of water use from public lands on a national basis, this process has become more complex than originally expected. Under California law, no one owns the water in an aquifer.
In regards to the fire protection issue mentioned in a recent editorial, the water system had never been capable of producing the 1500 gpm flow. The layout and pipe sizes in the system couldn’t carry that volume of water. The only way that level of flow could be produced would be to draw from the Lake.
The STPUD board has decided not to invest any additional funds in the well until the use fees have been determined. Recently, STPUD has notified the FS that water will be shut off if the STPUD well is not operational by May 31. The only recourse left to the FS is to drill our own well in order to open the area to the public on Memorial Day for the summer.
In conclusion, we at the FS are working hard to resolve these issues and remain hopeful that working in collaboration with the STPUD, together we can supply safe drinking water to the community. We will also do everything within our power to continue to have the Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area open to the public. We will accomplish this in a fair and professional manner that we feel our public expects and deserves. We don’t agree with the statement that we are “living in a fool’s paradise…” but we do believe we are all living in a paradise worth caring for.
The Forest Leadership Team
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
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