Two issues in way of Donner Lake residents' water

TRUCKEE - Donner Lake Water Co. customers have been presented with several possible solutions to their ongoing water crisis.

The Department of Health Services, a state agency, issued a boil water notice for the water company's customers on June 22 after determining low pressure and water outages greatly increased the possibility that the water system could become contaminated and cause illness among water consumers.

Representatives from the Truckee Donner Public Utility District and the California Public Utilities Commission have offered possible solutions to improve quality for water company customers.

With input from the community, Donner Lake Water Co. revised plans to improve the water at Donner Lake by drafting separate projects to replace the water treatment plant and to replace the distribution system. Each plan is eligible to receive independent funding.

Although the Department of Health Services mandated Donner Lake Water Co. to provide a treatment plant, the most immediate issue is the replacement of the distribution or conduit system. Dilapidated storage tanks and broken or missing pipes allowed parasites and bacteria to enter the water system. Low water pressure and outages created a vacuum, increasing the amount of contamination from outside sources. The chlorination system mandated by the public utlities commission may not be able to completely disinfect the water.

By separating the two entities, money from the State Revolving Fund can be used to replace the existing distribution system regardless of litigation over the proposed treatment facility.

With a new distribution system, Donner Lake Water Co. may be able to maintain increased water pressure, increased water supply, and thus eliminate the need for the boil water ordinance.

"We do have a separate application for the distribution system," said Robin Hook, manager for the State Revolving Fund office. "The application is for roughly $5 million. It includes pipes, storage tanks and a planning element. That is for 100 percent of the distribution system."

Hook said he hopes the review process to be complete by Aug. 27. The public utilities commission will review the application Sept. 7.

"We are not aware of any legal issue that would hold up the replacement of the distribution system," said Bob Fortino, Donner Lake Water Co. president.

"We are looking to do joint trenching with Southwest Gas earlier than when the money is allocated, earlier than approval of the application. We could begin as early as September... It's not verified, but I am very optimistic," Fortino said.

The Department of Health Services will oversee the budget allocated to the water company, and the department of water resources will reimburse the company for service and repair to the distribution system from the state revolving fund if the application is approved.

Fortino said he is prepared to continue construction to the distribution system as long as the town will allow him to proceed. The construction limit is Oct. 15.

Truckee Donner Public Utility District slated discussion and possible action regarding Donner Lake Water in a meeting last week.

District General Manager Peter Holzmeister said three actions of increasing involvement could be taken to reach a solution.

First is the availability of water from the district's existing facility for Donner residents.

"Truckee Donner could make arrangements right now for people to go to a point at our system to get water," Holzmeister said. "You could literally go down there with a 5-gallon type bucket and fill up. We could at least provide access to drinking water. We could do that real fast. We could do that in a matter of days."

Second is the possibility of offering contracting services to Donner Lake Water Co. to replace pipes and storage tanks.

Finally, should Donner residents agree, the public utilities district could acquire Donner Lake Water Co. and begin the process of building a new treatment and distribution system.

Holzmeister said the meeting last night may determine whether or not Donner residents would even like to the public utilities district to pursue that action.

Holzmeister added that the public utilities district would need a preliminary improvement plan where they can describe the system that is needed to improve the existing system, including a timetable and a funding source.

Echoing comments made by Hook at the meeting earlier this week, Holzmeister explained that there are funds available to public, nonprofit utility companies that are not available to other companies.

If residents at Donner Lake encouraged the public utilities district to take action, and if the public utilities district board of directors voted to approve such action, the public utilities district would have to negotiate a price with Donner Lake Water Co. or file to condemn the property.


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