U.S. Forest Service begins work on well near Camp Richardson | TahoeDailyTribune.com

U.S. Forest Service begins work on well near Camp Richardson

While there was controversy earlier this year about whether the Forest Service would have water for its South Shore recreation area this summer, the situation has become somewhat anticlimactic – in a good way.

The federal agency began drilling a well this week and expects to have it ready to provide water to Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitors Center at Taylor Creek and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake this summer. Instead of a dispute between the Forest Service and South Shore’s primary water provider resulting in no water for the popular tourist area, the federal agency says there will be plenty.

“We don’t see any problems. We’ll have the well on line by the end of May,” said Colin West, forest engineer for the agency’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

The other half of the one-time dispute hasn’t been quite so fortunate. The South Tahoe Public Utility District has yet to get a special-use permit for a well it has been building near the just-drilled Forest Service well. Without that permit, construction has stalled. The well likely won’t be on line this summer, which is bad news for STPUD because the utility has had mandatory water-usage restrictions the past two summers.

“We’re real close; we’re closer than we’ve ever been before,” said Dennis Cocking, STPUD information officer. “But we’re hung up on about three issues. I don’t think they are insurmountable, but it’s taking awhile.”

STPUD decision makers are scheduled to discuss their unfinished well at a meeting today.

On the eve of last year’s busy Fourth of July weekend, the Forest Service’s water provider at the time, Lukins Brothers Water Co., threatened to shut down service to the area, which can have as many as 10,000 people visiting on its busiest summer days. There had been a long, ongoing rate dispute between the two parties.

STPUD entered the fray but couldn’t take over service because, with its water-providing system depleted from MTBE contamination, it couldn’t take on another big customer while water restrictions were already required.

Lukins continued to provide service, and STPUD took over in September. However, STPUD said it couldn’t continue that service after May 31 of this year unless a new well being built on Forest Land could be finished. And the utility needed a special-use permit to use the well.

This January, saying they were hesitant to move forward on construction without the permit, STPUD’s board stopped work on the well, postponing its completion date well into summer.

Much larger than the one the Forest Service is building, STPUD’s well likely will cost more than $1 million. About $800,000 already has been spent on it.

Faced with having no water in June, the Forest Service started plans to drill its own well earlier this year.

“In the long run, I think this is going to be the best solution,” West said, adding that while the well will cost about $275,000, annual water bills for the area would have been $80,000 to $100,000 without it.

“Two hundred seventy-five thousand dollars may sound like a lot, but it makes sense when you can pay something back in four or five years,” he said. “It’s a good investment.”

Some South Shore organizations have expressed fears that the Forest Service’s well and pipe system won’t be able to provide enough water for fire protection. And there has been concern that the agency has no backup water supply if its well goes down, a pipe breaks or some other problem happens.

The federal agency is working with STPUD to come up with a deal to alleviate those potential problems.

What: STPUD meeting

When: Today, 2 p.m.

Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

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