The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has issued a new enforcement action against a South Lake Tahoe gas station, after drinking water at a nearby hotel revealed a contamination of gasoline chemicals at concentrations above consumption standards.
Detections of the contaminant, methyl tertiary butyl ether, have been increasing in the Mark Twain Lodge well during the past year, “probably as a result of drought conditions lowering the water table,” according to a Lahontan.
Tahoe Tom’s Gasoline Station, located at 4029 Lake Tahoe Blvd., was identified as the source of the contamination.
The new cleanup and abatement order calls for stern corrective requirements and deadlines from Tahoe Tom’s Gasoline Station. Requirements include operating a remediation system on the station’s property, conducting off-site cleanup where needed and collecting water samples from any nearby water wells quarterly.
However, MTBE or other hydrocarbons have not been detected in other water supply wells to date.
If MTBE or other hydrocarbons are detected above the primary drinking water standard, Lahontan said Tahoe Tom’s must provide an alternate water supply to the affected well owner.
The primary drinking water standard cannot exceed 13 parts per billion of MTBE or other petroleum hydrocarbons.
Tahoe Tom’s Gasoline Station has been the source of past releases of petroleum products before, according to Lahontan. Gas chemicals have been traced back to the station’s underground storage tank pipelines and dispensers since as long ago as 1991.
Previous orders have directed Mohammed Ahmad and the Thomas E. Erickson Trust — the parties responsible for the station at the time — to fix the contamination problem and reduce the threat to nearby drinking water wells, Lahontan reported. However, they did not always comply.
In 2009, the Water Board issued civil liability penalties totaling $412,900 against Ahmad and the Erickson Trust. But the fine was never paid.
Tahoe Tom’s is now owned by Lake Tahoe Investments, Inc., which has been added as a responsible party in the order. Calls for comment were not returned by deadline.
Mark Twain Lodge was reached by phone, but declined to comment.
MTBE, a compound added to gas in the U.S. in the 1980s, has a history of leaking into the environment from underground storage tanks. It was initially used to increase oxygen content in gasoline and reduce emissions, but often wound up in groundwater and aquifers.
Nevada banned MTBE in 2007, following a 2004 ban in California. Traces of the compound in water supplies have decreased over time, according to Lahontan, but the “drought appears to be increasing groundwater concentrations of residual petroleum left in soil.”