Water conservation up to residents | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water conservation up to residents

by Andy Bourelle

Conserve water.

Conserve water.

Conserve water.

Sound familiar? If not, wait a few months. That’s just a hint of what’s to come.

This summer, South Shore residents are going to hear about water conservation on the radio, see posters around town and – yes, obviously – read about it in the newspaper.

Residents may even have a water cop knock on their door if they are watering at the wrong time of day.

With more than one-third of its wells closed because of MTBE, the South Tahoe Public Utility District will start implementing mandatory water-usage restrictions June 1. The Lake Tahoe watershed received a lot of snow in the winter, and there is plenty of available water; however, with so many wells closed, STPUD lacks the infrastructure to provide the water.

Residents not served by STPUD likely won’t be affected, but for everyone else this summer’s restrictions could be the most stringent South Shore has ever faced.

“If it’s a dry June, and if people don’t voluntarily cut their water use in the home, then I fully expect to have to go to Stage 3,” said Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer.

“We went to Stage 2 last year, and we have never been to Stage 3, not even during the drought,” she added.

Through Stages 2 and 3, property owners should have no trouble keeping their vegetation alive, said Rick Hydrick, director of water operations for the utility district.

A lot of people don’t use their water efficiently, and the water-usage restrictions help educate them about the best ways to water. The restrictions keep people from watering during the hottest part of the day; they keep people from watering too much.

The district also is hoping people – recognizing STPUD’s situation -voluntarily cut back beyond the restrictions.

“Our ordinances are for outside irrigation. We can’t tell people how shallow to make their baths, but we’re hoping they do that on their own,” Forsythe said.

And while the district hopes water cutbacks will be voluntary, officials are not counting on that. STPUD is hiring two more water educators – also known as water cops – this summer, in addition to the one that normally patrols during Tahoe’s busy months. They will be there to educate residents. But it won’t just be hey-it’s-nice-to-meet-you-please-don’t-water-during-the-day kind of enforcement.

Repeat violators may have to hand over some cash or – if they continue to mess up – face having their water shut off.

Students from around South Shore have made posters and will do radio advertisements for the summer, but that doesn’t mean STPUD isn’t taking the problem seriously.

The district’s board of directors plans to make its regulations more stringent. Watering times for Stage 2 will be from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., a two-hour-shorter period than the 6 p.m.-to-8 a.m. restrictions last year. The district will encourage people with timers to set them to water between midnight and 5 a.m.

Penalties will be increased, too.

First-time violators will receive a warning. Second-time violators will face a 25-percent surcharge on their next bill – or a $100 fine, whichever is higher. A 50-percent surcharge will be imposed on third-time violators – or $200. Fourth-time violators will again face the 50-percent penalty. They also will have their water turned off.

STPUD’s water system supplies about 30,000 people through about 12,500 connections. In the summer, however, because of tourism, the total population served is as high as 60,000.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a fuel additive that has contaminated numerous groundwater sites on South Shore. Fourteen of the district’s wells are not in use, because the additive has either contaminated them or an MTBE plume is nearby.

STPUD is developing a contingency plan of what to do in the event that water restrictions are not working.

Before going to Stage 4 – where all outdoor irrigation can only be watered once a week – the district will try to take water from some of the standby wells without contamination. The district would monitor closely to make sure the nearby MTBE plumes are not drawn into the wells.

Before operating any contaminated wells – even with MTBE levels below any state or federal standards – the district will first move to Stage 5 restrictions: a water emergency.

“We put (using contaminated wells) last,” said Pembroke Gochnauer, STPUD board member. “That’s our last option.”

However, officials don’t believe there will be any reason to reach that point.

“With the MTBE consciousness (in the community), hopefully we’ll see reductions like we’ve never seen before,” Hydrick said.

Residents may as well make a habit of conserving water in the summer, too. While STPUD has plans this year to build more water wells, lines and tanks, water-usage restrictions such as these likely will be necessary for at least two summers, according to the district.

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