You should be aware by now that due to issues with our Water Company’s wells, the Board of Directors had to institute an irrigation prohibition as of April 1st for the foreseeable future. Due to the rules and regulations we have to follow as a property owners association, there may be some confusion regarding the prohibition’s timing.
The Board first issued an emergency rule change that went into effect from April 1st through July 8th. Emergency rules can only go into effect for up to one hundred and twenty days. Therefore, the Board also issued, for 28-day review, a permanent rule change that prohibits landscape irrigation from April 1st through November 1st. This will likely be approved, based on member feedback, during the May 19th Board Meeting. So, at this time, landscape irrigation is prohibited throughout the summer.
So what are we doing about it?
Health and safety is job number one. With two of our wells shut down (due to elevated uranium levels), the Board’s immediate concern was to ensure our Water Company could continue to provide safe drinking and household water.
To this end, the Board approved $600,000 of emergency reserve expenditure to purchase six temporary uranium treatment units to be installed at the two shut down wells. These units will allow us to pump a limited capacity of safe drinking from each well to supplement our remaining unaffected well (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. By eliminating irrigation, we ensure we can provide safe drinking water throughout the Tahoe Keys (barring any further catastrophes).
The procurement and installation of these treatment facilities are underway. We expect to have them operational for June, State approvals permitting.
So, like much of California this year, we face a prohibition on irrigation and the prospect of brown lawns and possible damage to our landscaping, both personal landscaping and common areas.
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.
That said, the Board, our Staff, and committee of volunteers have continued to investigate additional measures that we may be able to undertake to ease the irrigation prohibition at some point through the summer. During the April 19th Special Board Meeting, the Board approved an additional $800,000 in emergency reserve expenditure to potentially mitigate the irrigation prohibition to some degree and provide additional redundancy and resiliency of our Water Company operations.
The first of these expenditures is to establish an inter-tie with Lukins Brothers Water Company (LBWC) along 15th Street. LBWC is able to provide us with an additional 500 gallons of water per minute should we need it. This inter-tie will also give us a level of redundancy should installing the treatment units at our two wells run into issues, or we face additional issues with one of our wells at some point. It also provides capacity that might allow us to ease up on the irrigation prohibition.
The subsequent expenditure is for the installation of a monitoring and automated control system at our wells. Unfortunately, we have historically underfunded our Water Company infrastructure. We currently have no minute-by-minute monitoring and control of our wells. This has been a significant issue as we face this crisis because we really have no idea what our peak water demands are hour-by-hour; we have had to make some gross assumptions and best estimates when determining our water needs. Also, installing temporary treatment at two of our wells will significantly increase the complexity of operation for our Water Company staff. With this system in place, we will monitor our water demands minute-by-minute and gauge whether we have sufficient supply to allow some level of irrigation.
Finally, we approved the installation of water meters across our common area landscaping. Our best estimate is that our common areas account for thirty percent of our irrigation use. But, unfortunately, without any meters, we are somewhat guessing. These meters will allow us to see how much water we are using and, more importantly, how effective we can be at reducing usage.
Our hope is that with these three things in place, our Water Company will be able to better model our water demands through the day. If so, then possibly we’ll be able to allow a reduced amount of landscape irrigation for everyone. But I cannot emphasize enough, this is just a hope; there are no guarantees until we get everything in place and we’re able to experiment bit-by-bit.
The best-case scenario is that sometime around mid-July, the Board may be able to lift the irrigation prohibition and institute a schedule of limited irrigation through the rest of the summer. Until then, I’m afraid the prohibition stands.
We wanted to share a helpful article (https://www.popularmechanics.com/home/lawn-garden/how-to/a8014/how-to-save-a-drought-stricken-lawn-12203548/) that outlines some steps on how to weather a drought. The only caveat is that we can, of course, not use phosphorus-based fertilizers, as it recommends.
Our Staff has their work cut out to implement all the measures we have now approved; many of them have thirty to sixty day lead times. We are doing all we can in the short term to see us through this immediate crisis while we also work to determine the best long-term strategy.
Any long-term strategy could take us two or more years to put in place, so these short and intermediate term measures need to see us through until then. The Board has authorized $1.4MM in unplanned reserve expenditure. These funds will have to be replenished as part of the overall funding for the long-term solution (we are borrowing from our Common Reserve for the time being). The long-term solution could total $5MM to $10MM. I don’t share this to scare you, but to be fully transparent about what we face. Our engineering firm is evaluating all the options open to us. Hopefully, come July, the Board will be able to determine the best way forward. We’ll certainly look at different ways to fund the needed investments and endeavor to keep everyone informed over the coming months.