STPUD-Forest Service could agree Thursday
The results of a couple of trips to Washington have begun to ameliorate fears that a water crisis may happen this summer for Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitors Center at Taylor Creek and the campground at Fallen Leaf Lake.
“I think now we’ve come to a better understanding,” Duane Wallace, a South Tahoe Public Utility District board member, said after returning from the nation’s capital. “The top guys in the Forest Service better understand what’s going on here, the history and the ramifications. With (Lake Tahoe Forest Supervisor) Ed Gee going back and talking to them and me going back, I think they understand what’s going on.”
What has been causing a significant brouhaha is the inability of STPUD to get a special-use permit from the Forest Service to operate a well under construction on federal land. STPUD officials last month stopped all work, indicating they didn’t feel comfortable proceeding with the well, on which they had already spent $800,000, without the permit.
Without the completed well, a water supply for the hundreds of thousands of people who would visit the Forest Service’s South Shore recreation area was in jeopardy.
“Based on what they told me, I believe getting the special-use permit is imminent,” Wallace said. “I’m certainly hopeful.”
Colin West, engineering and recreation staff officer for the Forest Service’s Tahoe unit, estimated the permit would be ready by the end of the month.
“I feel bad we’ve been through all this stuff, the haggling back and forth and the negative press. But I’ve said all along we would be able to work this out,” West said.
“I hope this hasn’t damaged our relationship,” he added. “We do have a lot of other issues we work with STPUD on. It’s important we have a good working relationship in the future.”
It’s possible STPUD’s board of directors this Thursday could take action to get the well-building process back on track. If the permit is ready, Wallace said he would recommend going forward again. If not, the board conceivably could still move forward with a “good-faith step,” he said.
The problematic situation of providing water for the area goes back more than a year. After an ongoing contract dispute came to a head last year, the Forest Service nearly lost water for the popular visitors’ areas shortly before the busy July Fourth weekend. The supplier at the time, Lukins Brothers Water Co., threatened to discontinue service.
STPUD, South Shore’s primary water purveyor, got involved but couldn’t supply the Forest Service with water at that time. STPUD, which supplies water to about 30,000 people through 12,500 connections normally and as many as 60,000 people in the summer, had mandatory water-usage restrictions in place at the time. The district has lost the use of more than a third of its wells from MTBE.
After negotiations, Lukins Brothers continued providing service until the end of the summer; STPUD has been supplying since September.
Work on a new STPUD well began last year on Forest Service land. With water-usage restrictions again likely this summer, district officials have said they can’t supply the Forest Service this summer unless the well is on-line. Now that there’s been a delay, however, STPUD says it likely can’t have the well operational until at least July. And, under a current agreement, STPUD is only to provide water to the area until June 1.
Gee, forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, traveled to Washington in late January to get direction from his superiors on the issue. Wallace went to Washington last week for other reasons but met with the Forest Service’s higher ups while there.
The Forest Service has indicated plans to try to drill its own well. However, STPUD officials have expressed disbelief that it could be done in time, and firefighters are concerned that the federally owned well likely would be significantly smaller than STPUD’s and not provide enough water for fire protection.
If the Forest Service can’t get its own well drilled by July and STPUD’s still isn’t on-line, it’s possible the two parties could work out a deal that would provide water to the area, according to Dennis Cocking, STPUD information officer.
“There’re a lot of assumptions that have to be made,” he said. “Is it conceivable? Possibly. I don’t want to get in front of the board. There are a lot of variables.
“I think the key issue is we would have to be absolutely certain it wouldn’t impact our customers.”
What: STPUD meeting
When: Thursday, 2 p.m.
Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
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