South Lake Tahoe exceeds water conservation goal |

South Lake Tahoe exceeds water conservation goal

Jack Barnwell
In this Tuesday, July 21, 2015 photo, a low flow water emitter irrigates part of the almond trees at the Stewart & Jasper Orchards, in Newman, Calif. South Lake Tahoe has thus far surpassed the water conservation marks set by the state.

South Lake Tahoe exceeded its water conservation target in July, surpassing the 20-percent benchmark set by California Gov. Jerry Brown in April.

South Tahoe Public Utilities District General Manager Richard Solbrig said Wednesday that customers conserved 27.5 percent in July, compared to July 2013, despite the high influx of people during the first part of last month. The results follow 24-percent conservation in June and 34-percent conservation in May. The current usage data was compared to July 2013, as required by the state.

Solbrig credited Donielle Morse, the district’s water conservation specialist, and her team for their outreach efforts.

Morse on Friday said the community has done a lot to conserve water, even with the rain South Lake Tahoe received in June and July.

“There are definitely a lot of concerned people who want to do their part to save water,” Morse said.

South Tahoe PUD has been engaged in its water conservation program since 2008 and has conserved 27 percent overall since then.

“In a lot of ways we’ve been ahead of the rest of the state,” Morse said.

Some of its programs include rebate programs for toilets and washers, the two largest in-home uses of water.

Morse said the district provides a 50-percent rebate on all high-efficiency toilets up to $100 for a maximum of four per household. The criteria includes toilets that flush 1.28 gallons or less and were installed in or prior to 1992. The district also offered a rebate up to $200 to install high-efficiency washing machines.

The district has also had success with its turf buy-back program, for which the South Tahoe PUD Board of Directors approved a budget increase to meet demand.

“The whole purpose is to get rid of your water-intensive lawn and replace it with native or adapted low-water vegetation,” Morse said.

Morse said that 100 residential and 10 small commercial customers have enrolled, with spots for a few more.

The residential program offers a rebate of $1.50 per square foot of turf replaced, with a maximum rebate of $3,000.

The program requires that a minimum of 400 square feet of turf be replaced, and the area to be converted must be an irrigated, established lawn. The district usually inspects it beforehand.

Other programs include free water-wise house calls to help detect leaks, provide free faucet aerators and offer irrigation techniques.

The district has continued its three-day irrigation limit, adjusting its rules so that people can only water between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. for 20 minutes.

Irrigation efficiency checks are also offered, along with some rebates. Morse said the majority of summer water use comes from irrigation.

South Tahoe PUD also offers free landscaping workshops in partnership with the Tahoe Resource Conversation District, Lukins Brothers Water Company, Tahoe Keys Water Company and other public utilities districts in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Solbrig, the district general manager, said the district has received 120 complaints about water waste, issued 236 warnings and only one $500 commercial fine since the district enacted more stringent water measures in May and June. Residential fines would be $100.

Morse said the district issues a formal written warning before checking up a few weeks later. The district usually provides a second verbal warning in person or on the phone before issuing a second formal warning with a fine. Fines are issued only if people are unwilling to correct a situation.

“My goal is not to fine people,” Morse said. “Ultimately most people want to comply with water conservation.”

Morse added that the district couldn’t achieve its conservation success without the community’s efforts.

“Everyone has done a great job in conserving and I hope we continue to keep up the work,” Morse said.

The only downside to the district has been an impact on revenue, according to district financial officer Paul Hughes.

“There was an impact of $60,000 in the last quarter,” Hughes said. “We will take a look at how it impacts the entire summer service.”

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