Water company might shut off Forest Service’s water | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water company might shut off Forest Service’s water

A Lake Tahoe water purveyor on Friday, July 25 may shut off the water to the U.S. Forest Service’s South Shore recreation area, which includes Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitors Center and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake.

Then again, Lukins Brothers Water Company may not.

One thing is for sure, however, Danny Lukins wants to. Action by the California Public Utility Commission Thursday may have deterred him.

“This has happened so fast. We may go ahead and shut them off (Friday) anyway,” Lukins said late Thursday afternoon. “It looks like we’re not getting a clear decision (from the Public Utility Commission) about whether we can or can’t shut them off. I think we’re going to play it by an hour-by-hour basis for now.”

Even if the shut down doesn’t happen this weekend, at least a temporary absence of service may be possible within the next few weeks.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s water service likely will be switching from Lukins Brothers to the South Tahoe Public Utility District next month. Before the switch happens, however, water service may be lost.

Lukins said that the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s contract ran out more than a year ago, and the two agency’s have been negotiating since then. In 1997, Lukins proposed an across-the-board increase for its service of 86 percent. The California Public Utility Commission will make the final determination of what the increase can be, but the agency agreed in May 1998 to allow an interim 26-percent increase.

The Forest Service filed a complaint to the state board, which was supposed to be resolved Thursday. Had the state board ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the dispute between the water company and the Forest Service, Lukins would have shut the water off 9 a.m. Friday. However, the commission put off its decision until July 8.

Lukins said, despite asking for it, he hasn’t received a decision from the commission in writing saying the company can’t shut off service.

In the mean time, the Forest Service is negotiating with STPUD about providing the area with water. Despite the district currently enforcing mandatory water-usage restrictions, STPUD staff has agreed to try to provide the needed water to the Forest Service. The utility district’s board is scheduled to make a final decision July 1.

“I was kind of bewildered when I saw this letter that the South Tahoe Public Utility District would have enough water to supply them. The Forest Service in the next two months will use 15 million gallons of water. They use about 30 million gallons a year and have a tendency to use half of it in July and August,” Lukins said.

Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer, said the district has been able to supplement its summer water supply by making infrastructure improvements. Additionally, one of the district’s closed-down wells, which officials previously thought would pull a nearby MTBE plume toward it if operated, will be OK to use for most of the summer, Forsythe said.

District officials don’t believe the additional customers will force STPUD to tighten restrictions. She said the service will be only for indoor water use, which will equate to an increase of about 120 to 150 gallons a minute. The recently turned-on well provides more than 200 gallons.

“It’s because people are paying attention (to their water usage) that Valhalla and Camp Rich will have water. If people hadn’t been cutting back on water use, I don’t believe there would be much of a chance we could help the Forest Service,” Forsythe said.

The Forest Service has water rights to Taylor Creek, and as a part of the soon-to-be-formed agreement, STPUD would be able to use those. That would help the district’s long-term water supply problems, Forsythe said.

Linda Massey, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said officials for the federal agency are pleased the issue is being resolved.

“We are not anticipating any difficulties,” she said. “We will be in good shape no matter what happens on the 8th of July (at the Public Utility Commission meeting).”

That might not be the case, however.

Forsythe said it likely would be 10 days after the July 1 STPUD meeting before water could be provided. If the state board rules on July 8 that it has no jurisdiction to stop Lukins Brothers, that could leave at least two to three days of no service for the Forest Service – if Lukins doesn’t shut service off sooner.

Lukins said he is not upset that the company will be losing the Forest Service’s business, even though the area uses about 40 percent of water purveyor’s supply.

He said he plans to sue the Forest Service for attorney’s fees and costs incurred because of the two-year battle to negotiate a contract.

He added: “You can’t sue the federal government for punitive damages, so we may be taking action against the resort.”

Mike Weber, general manager of Camp Richardson Resort, did not return a phone call Thursday.

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