Emergency Water Restrictions and Irrigation Prohibition

By now, you should have received notice regarding the pending water restrictions and irrigation ban facing the Tahoe Keys this summer.

This situation is quite unprecedented in the Keys’ fifty-plus-year history. The actions that the Board has taken were not taken lightly. We, like you, are also homeowners and equally affected by these restrictions.

These actions are the culmination of a fast-tracked process the Board initiated at the end of last year when the extent of our wells’ uranium contamination became clear.

Well #2 was already shut down for the season, but the test results we had received meant we would not be able to restart it again for the foreseeable future.

Well #3 had already had two quarterly tests with elevated uranium levels with the expectation that the third test would come back likewise. This meant that if the fourth quarterly test (scheduled for April) came back above the state-mandated maximum level, we would have to shut down Well #3, leaving us one remaining well, Well #1 (our smallest and oldest).

Our Water Company Manager, Dan Larson, and our Water Quality Committee raised their concerns with the Board, and at a joint meeting of the Board of Directors and our Water Quality Committee in November last year, it was agreed to commission an engineering firm to develop a Long-term Facilities Plan for our Water Company to address the multiple contaminates we face across our three wells.

This was approved during the Board Meeting in December. Our Staff immediately went into action with the Water Quality Committee’s help and rapidly developed a Request For Proposal (RFP). This RFP was then sent out to seventeen engineering firms.

The RFP had two parts. The first was to provide immediate recommendations to the Board to address the imminent threat we faced going into this summer, with only one working well. The second was to evaluate all the options open to us to manage our water supply issues over the long-term (decades into the future).

We received five qualified bids through January. A five-member Advisory Committee of homeowners and external experts was appointed to evaluate them and provide a recommendation to the Board as to which firm to appoint. This was turned around in a week, and during the February 17th Board Meeting, MC Engineering was appointed.

The Committee recommended that four of the members remain to assist our Water Company Manager and MC Engineering in their task. These four homeowners have over one-hundred-and-fifty-years of water company/quality experience between them. The Board and all homeowners are incredibly fortunate to have homeowners with such expertise willing to volunteer to help us in this process. The Committee, Dan Larson, and MC Engineering got to work on the immediate problem we faced.

By early March, they were ready to provide their analysis and recommendations for necessary actions to ensure we would be able to provide safe drinking water through this year. At the March 11th Emergency Open Board Meeting, the Committee and MC Engineering presented their recommendations.

Health and safety is job number one. The immediate concern was to ensure our Water Company could provide safe drinking water through the summer—our historical peak demand (primarily due to irrigation) would far outstrip the capacity of our one remaining well.

To this end, the Board approved the immediate purchase of six temporary uranium treatment units to be installed at Well #2 and Well #3. Once in place, they will allow us to pump a limited capacity of safe drinking from each well to supplement Well #1 and ensure that we don’t have a single point of failure in our water system.

That said, all three wells’ total capacity would still be below the typical peak demand we see through the summer due to irrigation. Unfortunately, in addition to these emergency actions, the Committee also recommended that our Water Company enact an irrigation ban in April through the summer.

By eliminating the peak demand caused by irrigation, we ensure we can provide safe drinking water throughout the Tahoe Keys (baring any further catastrophes).

If we did not institute this ban, then it is possible that on any given day, without warning, demand could outstrip the supply of water from our wells, resulting in a drop in pressure and the potential for external water to enter our system. As we experienced last year, low pressure in our water system would necessitate sending out boil water notices; this time, possibly routinely. Should this occur too frequently, there exists the possibility that State Agencies would step in and take over our Water Company.

So, like much of California this year (which once again faces drought conditions), we too are facing a ban on irrigation and the prospect of brown lawns and possible damage to our landscaping, both personal and common.

This is not a pleasant prospect for any of us, but I cannot overstate the seriousness of the problem we face; brown lawns and landscaping are the least of our concerns should we be unable to provide safe drinking water.

The Board asks for your understanding and patience; we are all homeowners, and we all face this crisis together. And as the old adage goes, never waste a good crisis, I want to assure you the Board, Staff, and Advisory Committee are committed to solving our water issues once and for all.

Our focus now needs to turn to the long-term facilities plan scheduled to be completed by June. This plan is critical for the Board to evaluate our options and decide the best long-term course of action. In the meantime, our Staff and MC Engineering will be busy installing our emergency filtration systems for Well #2 and Well #3. We have set ourselves a fifty-day deadline (starting March 11th) to have everything operational.

In the meantime, our Committee of experts, MC Engineering, and Staff are evaluating if there are other measures we can take to alleviate the complete ban on irrigation. These won’t come for free, and to be brutally honest, the priority right now has to be on implementing the emergency actions already approved and developing the long-term facilities plan. We cannot jeopardize either of these two tasks, else we jeopardize our ability to provide safe drinking water this summer and to be able to start work on the long-term solution to our problems…and risk facing another year of water restrictions in 2022.

Things are moving fast. We will do our best to be as transparent and open as possible and communicate with you as regularly as we can. Should there be a viable way to mitigate the irrigation ban without jeopardizing work already underway, rest assured we’ll be evaluating it seriously and will keep you informed.

We are here to serve you to the best of our abilities; while we do not have all the answers at this time, if you have any concerns or questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me.

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