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Additive found in second well

Patrick McCartney

The South Tahoe Public Utility District has found a controversial fuel additive in a second drinking water well, the district’s operations manager said on Thursday.

Low levels of MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, have been found at Arrowhead Well No. 2 in Meyers, one of the district’s 36 wells that supplies drinking water to 12,000 South Shore customers, said Rick Hydrick.

The district previously shut down the Tata Lane well following the discovery of moderate levels of MTBE, but are now blending the water with that from two other wells and treating it a a $500,000 air-stripping facility. The latest tests showed no detectable amount of the additive in the water delivered to customers.

The Meyers well provides 700 gallons of drinking water a minute, Hydrick said, adding that the contamination is probably coming from one of the area’s gas stations.

Of more concern, Hydrick said, is high levels of MTBE found beneath the Tahoe Tom’s service station near Stateline, which could threaten two other wells, Black Rock Well No. 1 and No. 2.

“I believe we are at a crossroads with how we must deal with this underground contamination,” Hydrick told the district’s board. “MTBE has heightened the stakes.”

Hydrick said he was especially concerned because the leaking tank at Tahoe Tom’s is brand new, casting doubt on the benefit of a nationwide inspection and replacement program.

Also looming as a threat to the district, Hydrick said, is the possible adoption by state regulators of a secondary standard for MTBE, which would require the district to go through an expensive list of procedures once contamination levels reached a certain threshold.

“We can’t let our guard down on any well,” Hydrick said. “We could have a domino effect. If you lose one well, we could lose others.”

Duane Wallace, a member of the district’s board of directors, said the district should take strong action to protect the quality of its water supply.

“It seems like the only sane thing to do is to lobby to get MTBE removed from our gas supply,” Wallace said.


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