Water conservation rules now permanent
The water that evaporates from Lake Tahoe each year could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for five years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
So why, with such a large volume of water at their doorstep, did South Shore’s largest water supplier just adopt permanent water restrictions for the more than 17,000 homes and businesses it serves?
The water supply of South Tahoe Public Utility District is limited because it comes from wells that tap pockets of water underground – not the lake.
The change was the right one to make because the restrictions, in effect last summer, were a success. They reduced water consumption by 15 percent and didn’t cause lawns and other landscaping to die, said Dennis Cocking, district information officer.
The district conducted public meetings during winter to discuss its approach to water conservation. One thing they heard from the public was to the district should be more consistent with its regulations.
“This is permanent, no longer voluntary,” Cocking said. “That’s what we heard from the stakeholder group – adopt a water conservation policy and stick with it.”
Looking to the lake as a possible source of water would be a stretch. The last time anyone was granted permission to draw water from Lake Tahoe was 1965, Cocking said.
Restrictions in effect last summer will carry over to this summer. They allow homeowners to water their lawns three times a week. Watering sessions should not last longer than an hour, and no watering is allowed on Saturday. The rules will be enforced with a written warning or a $100 fine tacked on to a customer’s bill.
The district has been promoting a variety of water restrictions for about 10 years. The situation got more serious in 1997 when district supplies took a hit from the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether. MTBE, now banned in the Lake Tahoe Basin, leaked into the ground at gas stations. To date it has contaminated and shut down 13 of 34 district wells.
The water supply has also been squeezed by a boom in landscaping at South Shore. Every year more residents are planting sod, which can consume a lot of water.
The third piece of the puzzle is simple economics.
“It just doesn’t make sense to pump and produce water that meets drinking water standards and waste it by overwatering in landscape irrigation,” Cocking said. “I think people are still watering too much up here. Realistically speaking, 15 to 20 minutes is sufficient.”
Random phone calls to residents didn’t turn up any opposition to the new ordinance.
“I don’t think I’ll be affected by it that much,” said Golden Bear Trail resident Charles Smith, who began watering with a sprinkler last week. “Watering every other day is fine. If that’s what the boys want, that’s what the boys want.”
Don Loscar, who lives on Tionontati Street, waters his lawn with an automatic sprinkler system.
“It doesn’t really bother me,” Loscar said. “I get enough water on my lawn with what they’ve got. I have my automatic sprinkler system set to the day and just forget about it.”
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org