Residents asked to conserve water |

Residents asked to conserve water

With fire danger high and no precipitation in sight, South Shore’s biggest water supplier is asking the community to conserve water.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District pumped more water in June and July than in the same period in any prior year. The district is pumping more than 12 million gallons a day in August.

Information officer Dennis Cocking attributes the high demand to increased planting by the district’s 12,000 residential and 630 commercial customers.

“When I was a kid everybody raked their pine needles up and that was it,” he said. “Now there’s really extensive landscaping.”

Tom Snauffer, manager of Nel’s Garden Center, said plant sales were much greater this year than last because of the long planting season, which started in April because of the dry winter.

“We haven’t seen a growing season like this in quite a while,” said Cary Brown from Nel’s. “It’s been warm and windy, which dries things out, requiring you to water more.”

Brown encourages people to water three times a week for long periods of time to get down to plant roots.

Cocking, however, said most people tend to overwater. He suggests watering daily and covering vegetation with a quarter-inch of water. Free rain gauges are available at the district office to help people measure their water use, while using drip systems will help conserve water.

“In the Sierra there’s never enough water to waste,” he said.

Cocking said if water demand stays the same or increases, more pumping could cut down on firefighting capabilities if there was a massive forest fire.

The district is only operating with 22 of its 34 wells because MTBE contamination shut down 12 wells, mostly around the “Y.”

Methyl tertiary butyl ether, a fuel additive outlawed in South Shore more than a year ago, was detected in groundwater in 1997.

There are five MTBE plumes that exist today. Several warning wells were installed after the MTBE contamination to alert the district of plumes reaching drinking water wells.

A warning well alerted the district Monday to a plume coming from under the Terrible Herbst gasoline station, near Blue Lake Avenue, running toward the Paloma well on Paloma Avenue and the Al Tahoe well on Tallac Avenue.

“This is no big surprise for us, but it’s a little bit sooner than we would have hoped,” Cocking said.

He said the plume will take years to reach the well, but when people consume more water the pumps have to work harder, drawing the plume toward them more quickly.

The district had to slow pumping from 1,800 gallons per minute to 1,200 gallons per minute because the plume was traveling faster toward the Paloma and Al Tahoe wells.

With limited wells and slower pump rates, Cocking said people will have to start conserving water themselves.

“We’d like to avoid going to mandatory restrictions,” he said. “We have three to four weekends left in the summer. We think we have enough to get by.”

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