Fixing county’s Tahoe water systems price at $14 million
August 23, 2013
County officials estimate it will cost $14 million to bring the three Lake Tahoe water systems back to full operation.
The county took over the Cave Rock-Uppaway, Skyland and Zephyr Utility District water systems nearly a quarter of a century ago and has spent $10-$15 million to improve them, Public Works Director Carl Ruschmeyer said in a memo to county commissioners last week.
Much of that money came from grants and transfers from the county's water fund.
Transfers from the county's general fund have been used to hold rates level while a long-term plan was developed to stabilize the rates.
"While the county has made significant progress in correcting system deficiencies, the water systems were constructed over 50 years ago, and still require significant upgrades and improvements," Ruschmeyer said.
Combined, the three water systems serve about 1,070 homes. Most of the water systems were built in the early to mid 1950s.
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Ruschmeyer said that most of the leaks in the system happen where fittings were field-welded, pipe sections were bent to avoid boulders, or rocks were laid in the ditches, sometimes resting on the pipes.
"Annual costs to repair failing pipes have been on the rise, and have exceeded $100,000 a year for the last two fiscal years," Ruschmeyer said.
He estimated the costs for repairing the systems at $8 million for Cave Rock-Uppaway, $4.5 million for Skyland and $1.6 million for the Zephyr water system. Board members ordered staff to seek public feedback on the options and bring them back for a later meeting.
All three water systems came into county ownership as a result of the private owners' inability to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act's surface water treatment rules. All three get their water from Lake Tahoe.
At their meeting in Stateline last week, commissioners approved a plan that would consolidate the water systems bookkeeping. If implemented, the average rates for the water systems would be $96.61 a month starting July 1, 2015, rising to $113.02 on July 1, 2019.
County commissioners tabled a plan to outsource operation and maintenance of the water systems.
A proposal by the Tahoe Douglas District to operate the water companies came in at less than what the county's spending, but Ruschmeyer said the district's proposal didn't include equipment, material or overtime, which he said cut the savings substantially.
The county has hired a new utilities superintendent to oversee the operation of the county's water systems.
Ruschmeyer said Tim DeTurk is working on a plan to reduce costs of operating the systems that would further cut into the difference for the Tahoe Douglas bid.
"After further review of the proposal by TDD and the proposed reallocation of staffing for the fiscal year 2015 budget, it has been determined that only marginal cost savings could be recognized by contracting out operation and maintenance services," Ruschmeyer concluded.
Because the county has substantial work to do to bring the water systems back up to their optimum level, Ruschmeyer said it would reduce the cost of operation.