Water issue gives STPUD that sinking feeling
Water, water everywhere – and no way to serve the darn stuff.
Confusion and disagreement continue over how to provide domestic water to Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitor Center at Taylor Creek and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake this summer.
However, the Forest Service may try to drill its own well this spring if the South Tahoe Public Utility District shuts off the water supply for the federal agency’s South Shore recreation area in June.
But Acting Forest Supervisor Ed Gee says he doesn’t want it to come to that. He plans to fly to Washington this weekend to meet with officials who may be able to help bring resolution to a disagreement between the federal agency and STPUD.
“I know it’s been very difficult on both agencies,” Gee said Thursday after a STPUD meeting. “Our wish is to still work in collaboration, today and in the future. This community is too small for two big agencies such as the Forest Service and South Tahoe Public Utility District to not work together collaboratively.”
The problem of providing water for the Forest Service’s recreation area has a long, sordid history that dates back before STPUD was involved. The Forest Service nearly lost water for the popular visitors’ areas shortly before July Fourth weekend last year when the supplier at the time, Lukins Brothers Water Co., threatened to discontinue service. A contract dispute had been ongoing for more than a year.
STPUD stepped into the fray and agreed to take the Forest Service as a customer if Lukins Brothers could continue its service until the end of the summer. STPUD, which supplies water to about 30,000 people normally and as many as 60,000 people in the summer, had mandatory water-usage restrictions in place at the time and said it couldn’t take on another big customer. Because of MTBE contamination, STPUD has lost the use of several of its wells, and the restrictions may be needed again in upcoming summers, too.
STPUD has been supplying water to the Forest Service area since September; however, district officials say they can’t do it this summer without a new well. Work on a new well – needed both to help supply the Forest Service and improve the district’s depleted infrastructure – started last summer on Forest Service land near Camp Richardson.
The latest problem, however, is that the Forest Service has not been able to finalize the details of a special-use permit that would give STPUD permission to use the well. STPUD already has spent more than $800,000 on it, and officials don’t want to spend more unless there is a better guarantee the district will get the permit. The STPUD board Thursday agreed to halt all work on the well until the district gets the permit. Completion of the well will be delayed at least a few weeks into June, if not several months.
“The district is doing everything it can do in a very timely manner to move this whole issue forward,” Chris Strohm, president of the STPUD Board of Directors, said at Thursday’s meeting. “When, not if, we’re not able to serve the Forest Service this summer, I want that to be remembered. The district has worked as expeditiously as possible.”
Forest Service officials did not speak at the meeting. Afterward, however, Gee said what is tying up the process to give STPUD the permit is that the federal agency on a nationwide basis has rarely dealt with drilling wells on Forest Service land.
“I’m trying to move on this as quickly as possible,” he said.
In the meantime, Gee said, the agency is pursuing the possibility of drilling its own well as a “contingency plan.”
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