By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
More than 40 people packed the Tuolumne Utilities District board room last night to complain about low flows in the creek running through Willow Springs and accuse TUD directors of wrecking their property values.
The creek Willow Springs residents referred to is a natural waterway flowing through the subdivision, said TUD General Manager Gary Egger.
In the 1980s and early '90s, a leak in the Soulsbyville ditch fed the creek and provided water year-round.
As the leak grew, some residents near the creek threatened to sue the district because excess flows were washing out their properties, Egger said, so TUD lined sections of the nearby ditch with concrete a process also known as gunniting.
But the gunniting stopped water from flowing to other Willow Springs residents who liked having the accidental creek there.
While TUD directors last night also unanimously approved the construction and transfer of a water line to serve a library and youth center in Tuolumne, it was the creek issue that dominated the meeting.
Creek neighbors filled almost every audience chair at the water district board meeting, and some accused directors of lowering property values and causing other water problems in the subdivision because of the gunnited ditch and loss of the creek.
"The wells in Willow Springs are dry, the springs are dry, the ponds are murky and muddy," said subdivision resident John Souza.
The issue was not on the TUD agenda, so board members could not take any steps to solve the problem. But Egger said the district is already working with the Willow Springs Homeowners Association to hammer out a compromise.
Egger suggested the district revert back to an agreement TUD had with the association in the early 1990s, before the ditch leaked drastically. Under that contract, the association purchased water from TUD to flow through the creek during dry summer months. TUD is checking to see if the pumps still work, and if they do, that project can start back up.
"I would guess by next summer they'll be contracting and water will flow again," Egger said.
Board President Louise Giersch called the packed house "an unexpected surprise."
Other board members said this was the first time they realized the situation affected so many people. Directors agreed to send the issue to a committee and hear it again as an agenda item in a future session.
Jim Segale, president of the Willow Springs Homeowners' Association, said those residents who like the creek have been discussing the issue for some time and finally agreed to confront the water district board last night.