MOUNTAIN SUNRISE ROTARY CLUB
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
During the COVID-19 virus, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District divided its field crews into two different units. One, John Wurm, president of the LACSD board of directors, told the members of the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club, worked in the field for a week while the other was at home.
“The idea was,” he said, “if one crew got infected, we’d have 50 percent of field operations available. That was vital because, if a problem arose, we would need them. Workers in the water treatment plant and the field workers are considered essential workers.
“They keep the tap water flowing and the wastewater going out.”
The workers at home continued to receive full pay and were on duty from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., ready to come into work if they were needed.
Within a month, Wurm said, “things eased up a bit and we were able to have the crews back to work full time.”
He added that General Manager Catherine Cerri said that “she didn’t think she’d hear from so many of the guys that they were happy to get back to work!”
Wurm told the Rotarians there has been one interesting development: “Our residential water usage is up about 15 percent.” He attributes that to houses that have typically only been occupied on weekends being occupied full time during the Coronavirus – for a week, two or three at a time.
“You may have noticed there are more people on the mountain,” Wurm said. “Our water usage in Arrowhead Woods confirms that.” He pointed to LACSD’s advanced system for tracking water usage that has allowed them to accumulate the data.
“More people are using their vacation homes up here,” Wurm said. “It’s great that people have an escape. Coming up here is a way to get away from the city, relax, feel good. I’m glad personally that we’re here for our visitors. And LACSD is grateful for the increase in revenue.”
Because the lake is almost full, Wurm added, they have the water to deliver to their customers.
On the other hand, he noted, commercial usage has been cut by over 25 percent due to the restaurants and the Lake Arrowhead Resort – one of their big water users – being closed. The Resort, Wurm said, “seems to be well occupied now so we hope that revenue will come back.”
When asked about alternative water sources to Lake Arrowhead, Wurm said they are continually looking at options.
One they have been pursuing for several years, he said, is indirect potable reuse – recycling the water. The water would be treated at the Grass Valley treatment plant, then pumped to Willow Creek. From there the water would go into settling ponds and into the ground. After two to four years, LACSD would start pumping it up again.
“This is a technology widely used and accepted,” Wurm said. “It has been used for decades, including in Orange County and the High Desert.”
Right now, he noted, treated wastewater goes down a pipeline to Hesperia. “It settles into the 350 acres we have there. Folks in the High Desert use it in their water system. It is an accepted, safe method of recycling water. We would do it here rather than sending it down to the High Desert.”
The challenges, Wurm said, include doing testing to make sure the bedrock, ground and soil are adequate “and will allow us to do what we want to do.”
When asked about the likelihood of IPR happening, Wurm said that “it depends on geology and the rock structure in the Forest Service land. If the rock structure and geology are adequate, I think it will happen in maybe six to 10 years.”
He further noted that there will be regulatory challenges. But he thinks that, politically, “water recycling has become more acceptable. It is a long-used, reliable technology that will not have an adverse effect on water quality.”
And, if water recycling is put into place, Wurm said, “In my opinion, we won’t have any more water shortage problems in Lake Arrowhead. It would add 300 to 500 acre-feet of water a year. Now we are only taking 1,100 to 1,300 acre-feet of water a year out of the lake.”
Whether folks think it’s good or bad, Wurm said, Lake Arrowhead has the potential for a large increase in population. The full-time population, which went down during the recession, is now at about 35 to 45 percent. “That means 60 percent of the houses are available for full-time residents. In other areas, they can stop development by not allowing more homes to be built. But, when a home is already built, you can’t stop an owner from living in it full time or stop a part-time owner from selling to a full-time owner.”
Wurm also pointed to another alternative water source: a water swap. “Now our wastewater goes down to Hesperia and into the ground. Because we put water down there, we get a credit we can sell.” That amounts, he said, to $80,000 to $100,000 a year.
LACSD has also explored using water from Grass Valley Lake for the water swap. “If we have a good rainfall, the water goes over the dam, into the channel and down to the High Desert.” To use that water for a swap, the district would have to explore it through the state and negotiate with people with the water rights in the High Desert.
LACSD continues to drill for water and create wells. And they are taking a proactive approach to maintenance.
A lot of the water lines, Wurm noted, are 50 to 60 years old, made of steel, which corrodes and leaks. About eight years ago, LACSD started replacing those pipes.
“We changed our philosophy,” he said. “Before, when it broke, we fixed it. Now, instead of waiting for a pipe to break, we are continually repairing the old system.”
And the district continues to push for water conservation.
“Water we don’t use is water saved,” Wurm said.