Board mulls solutions for Sierra Country Estates water woes
Douglas County Commissioners authorized the public works department to complete a facilities plan and preliminary engineering report as officials deliberate what to do about the failed Sierra Country Estates water system.
The vote was 4-1 to authorize county staff to prepare the report rather than contract to an outside consultant.
Chair Greg Lynn voted against the directive, agreeing with Engineering Manager Ron Roman that the Sierra Country Estates project would offset work on other projects, specifically at the Lake.
Commissioner Lee Bonner asked for a report within 60 days, but Public Works Director Carl Ruschmeyer said it would be six months.
The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection is suing in Douglas County District Court to have a receiver appointed to run the Sierra Country Estates water system.
The system has been the subject of a number of violations for failure to comply with the Nevada Public Water Systems law.
On Feb. 22, the state Bureau of Safe Drinking Water issued a finding of an alleged violation. System owners Bill and Marsha Tomerlin replied that they didn’t have the ability to comply with the law, and the state filed in district court.
The water system is also in trouble with the state engineer, who has ordered the system to stop over-pumping and come into compliance with the terms of its water rights permits and water law.
Under an order issued by the state engineer on July 18 to the 20 individual property owners, water meters must be installed at every residential connection by Sept. 16.
Sierra Country Estates residents spoke Thursday about their efforts to fix the system, and their disappointment that the problems were allowed to accumulate.
Evan Maxwell, president of the gated community’s homeowners’ association, said the problems were nothing new.
“This, for us, is an old problem. We welcome a new chance to get the county engaged,” Maxwell said.
“The Tomerlins ruled the system with an iron fist, but no one ruled the Tomerlins,” he said.
Resident Steven Leandro said he moved into his home in January 2012, and “naively assumed” all was well.
“When you buy a home, you expect the water to be there,” he said. “The county accepted and validated the SCE (Sierra Country Estates) system when it issued permits for homes to be built, and then collected many hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax.
“It’s not OK to say 20 years after that conditions ‘were not met.’ If they were not met, then building permits should not have been issued during those 20 years.”
He said in May, residents attempted to install water meters, but legal issues arose that halted the process.
“We worked with the state engineer and Nevada Department of Environmental Protection to revise the meter installation order, and cleared the way to install meters in the next few weeks.”
Jennifer Ware said she concurred with her neighbors’ assessment of the situation.
“Ownership of the water rights is really a tangled web with lawsuits, and federal court rulings. Who owns the water rights?” she asked.
Ware said she would like the option of drilling her own well.
“The customers are victims. The developer did not live up to their promises and the government failed in its duties,” Ware said.
The preliminary engineering report, as ordered by the state, is estimated to cost $60,000 to complete.
It will include detailed review of water usage, analysis of water chemistry, and hydraulics.
The report is to come up with an alternative among four offered by the county, evaluate conceptual layouts, and update costs for operation and maintenance, and life cycle.
The four alternatives identified in Thursday’s presentation cost from an estimated $726,000 to $1.4 million.
Also to be determined is who pays.