U.S. Water News Online
SHAVER LAKE, Calif. -- Kirby Molen talks about water issues
from the deck of a home in the Wildflower Village development near
Shaver Lake, where home builders may be facing a moratorium because
of limited water availability.
State officials warn that water shortages in the Shaver Lake area
mean home building should be scaled back.
And if growth occurs too quickly in the next few years, a Fresno
County supervisor is telling developers, they may have to stop
At Shaver Lake, 1,453 lots are recorded, which includes land that
does not yet have houses. A study prepared for the county more than
25 years ago said the county should allow no more than 2,000 homes
before triggering use of water from Shaver Lake because of expected
Supervisor Bob Waterston has sent a letter to Shaver Lake
developers warning that the community is expected to reach its
2,000-lot limit within two years.
"We don't want to get into the dilemma where homes are built and
there is not enough water to get to them," said Ray Ramirez, special
district administrator for Fresno County, which oversees water
systems in Shaver Lake.
But what would seem to be an obvious solution for a lakeside
community isn't, because of decades-old regulations that prohibit
tapping Shaver Lake water for nearby residential and commercial use.
That irony is not lost on a group of landowners who have their
sights set on lake water. First, they'll have to find water elsewhere
as a tradeoff and build a water filtration plant.
To lead them to their goal, the land owners have hired a heavy
hitter in Valley water circles: Dick Moss, the former general manager
of the Friant Water Users Authority, an agency that oversees water
flowing along Friant-Kern Canal to 22 water and irrigation districts
on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley.
"I have enormous regard for Dick and his abilities," said Fresno
water attorney Gary Sawyers. "He has both the background and
ingenuity to do this if it can be done." More than 30 years ago,
Fresno County secured water rights from Shaver Lake from the federal
Bureau of Reclamation. But the permit, issued by the state Water
Resources Control Board, did not include Shaver Lake as "a place of
use" for the water, Sawyers said.
That wasn't a problem for years, as wells flowed with water for a
Now, water supply that in previous years would have been enough
for 40 homes is considered adequate only for 30 homes, a "75 percent
rule" the state Department of Health Services warned in a letter to
Fresno County officials.
In addition, the town's water well tests are falling short of
county requirements by about one-third.
The most serious concern is the continuing difficulty finding
water in hard rock. It's a two-part problem: six years of drought and
growing numbers of full-time residents seeking a new mountain and
And it's a growing concern. The state also sent warning letters to
Sierra water agencies in eastern Madera, Mariposa, and Tuolumne
Ken Schmidt, a Fresno hydrologist who has prepared water studies
for Shaver Lake, said more year-round residents are showing up with
each passing year.
"It used to be if you could have water on Labor Day, you'd be all
right," Schmidt said. "The groundwater supply is limited, and they
always knew when they grew enough they would have to go to surface
water [Shaver Lake]."
The need for lake water grows as the community's well levels
continue to fall.
Cindy Forbes, the state's chief administrator for drinking water
standards in the Fresno region, described the state's 75 percent rule
as a "resurrection" of a 1996 rule that went into effect when water
wells were coming up short of necessary supplies.
"If I was asked to name a system in the foothills that relies on
hard-rock wells that has too much water, I couldn't name one," Forbes
said. "I don't see water supply issues going away any time soon."
And, intensifying the concern are water consumption records
showing that more people live in Shaver full time instead of as
vacationers, Forbes said.
A barometer is post office box rentals, which indicate full-time
residency. According to U.S. Postal Service records, there are now
about 600 long-term post office box rentals in the Shaver Lake area
compared with 450 to 500 five years ago.
"It's very scary to be allowing a lot more new development relying
on hard-rock wells," Forbes said.
Kirby Molen represents one of the major landowners: Wildflower
Village, 621 homes on 606 acres. It's about 20 percent built out.
Molen said developers will move ahead with their plan to use water
from Shaver Lake, build a water filtration plant and find replacement
water for other San Joaquin River users.
He estimates that major landowners in the Shaver Lake area have
more than 2,500 lots to develop in the coming decades.
The lucrative housing market attracting buyers from coastal areas
and the Valley serves as an incentive for Shaver Lake's major
landowners to propose a plan to acquire lake water.
But Molen said he views Waterston's letter as more of a reminder
than a threat.
"I think he is saying, 'Boys, are you thinking in advance? And
don't expect to go above 2,000 [units] without that lake water.' "
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