County may buy Tahoe water rights

In four of the last seven years, Douglas County has pumped more water than permitted from Lake Tahoe. Legislation passed during the last session could mean fines of up to $10,000 per day for overpumpage, which has ranged between 3 and 34.5 acre feet.

Water usage dropped in 2005 and 2006, leaving a surplus of 82.5 and 67 acre feet respectively, but future needs and growth are expected to increase consumption to between 56 and 73 acre feet at build-out, according to county figures.

The current annual allotment for the Douglas County portion of Lake Tahoe is 759.8 acre feet.

"Sometimes we're over and sometimes we're under, so we're looking at what we may need for ultimate buildout," said Douglas County Engineer Carl Ruschmeyer.

These are surface water rights and can't be transferred out of the Lake Tahoe basin, Ruschmeyer said.

Douglas County commissioners will consider spending $750,000 for 56.6 acre feet of water to augment the county's Lake Tahoe water supplies, the money to be paid over a six-year period.

If a deal is signed, another 8.4 acre-feet would be donated to the county after the final payment, in 2013.

Estimates put the cost of an acre-foot at about $13,250, according to a letter from one-time county commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who now represents Terra Firma Associates LLC.

The water rights, which date from January 1861, are owned by the William and Elizabeth Rabe Trust and are located on Burke Creek and Folsom Springs, Etchegoyhen said in a letter to commissioners.

"Any transaction would, of course, be contingent upon successful transfer of the point of diversion, place and manner of use of this water by the Nevada State Engineer to the county," Etchegoyhen said.

The issue will be addressed at Thursday's regular meeting of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Tahoe Transportation Center, 169 Highway 50 in Stateline.

In other business, commissioners could approve an amendment to the Lake Tahoe vacation rental ordinance, defining on-site parking spaces and limiting overnight parking to on-site assigned parking spaces.


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