Water issue up a creek | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water issue up a creek

by Andy Bourelle

The Forest Service may be in danger of not having water for its South Shore recreation area this summer, and South Shore’s primary water provider may have to abandon completing a new well it has already spent more than $800,000 on.

The reason, as one of the South Tahoe Public Utility District directors describes it, is “bureaucratic gobbledygook.”

After nearly six months of talks, STPUD and the Forest Service have been unable to come up with an agreement on water service for Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitor Center at Taylor Creek and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake.

Regardless of what happens next, based on action taken Thursday, at the least the potential for the Forest Service to receive domestic water for those areas will be in jeopardy during the first few weeks of June.

“What troubles me is the constant lack of communication,” Rick Hydrick, manager of water operations for STPUD, said at the board’s meeting Thursday. “I think it bodes poorly for the future in dealing with the Forest Service.”

The situation is deja vu for the Forest Service, which nearly lost water service on the eve of July Fourth weekend last year. A contract dispute between the Forest Service and its provider at the time, Lukins Brothers Water Co., had been ongoing for more than a year. After Lukins Brothers threatened to discontinue service, 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 didn’t want to take on another significant-sized customer.

STPUD, with its infrastructure severely depleted because of MTBE contamination, wanted to drill a new well on Forest Service land near Camp Richardson. If the district could do that, it would be able to accept the Forest Service as a customer permanently.

Work on the well started last summer, with the plan that it would be on-line by June of this year. A temporary agreement that requires STPUD to serve water to the Forest Service area expires May 31.

The problem coming to a climax now is that the Forest Service has been unable to provide a long-term permit for STPUD to use the well it has already spent nearly $1 million on. District officials feel uncomfortable continuing to spend money on the well without better assurance that STPUD will be able to use it. And because of the complexity of building a well and hooking piping up to it, STPUD’s board needed to agree Thursday to continue with the next stage of work in order for the project to be finished by June.

The board didn’t do that, tabling a decision to spend $33,200 to have the electrical components of the well designed.

“Without a special-use permit, we do not recommend spending another dime,” said Chris Strohm, president of STPUD’s board of directors.

Ed Gee, acting forest supervisor of the federal agency’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said what is keeping the Forest Service from giving a special-use permit is the need for an appraisal of the well site’s property value and that the agency doesn’t often work with water rights. He said he needs direction from the Washington office and would make telephone calls immediately to try to get some resolution.

“I apologize for the bureaucracy I work for,” Gee told the board. “I wish I could cut through the red tape I have to deal with.”

Duane Wallace, STPUD board member, encouraged everyone involved to continue to work together to find a solution rather than blame one another about why it isn’t working.

“This is a long-term relationship,” he said. “I would rather see us clear this up now rather than go through the next 20 years playing tit for tat.”

STPUD board member Mary Lou Mossbacher said she was “disappointed and disgusted with the Forest Service.”

“It’s all a bunch of bureaucratic gobbledygook,” she said.

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