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Additive on district’s agenda

Patrick McCartney

Directors of the South Tahoe Public Utility District on Thursday will pool information about a controversial fuel additive with water suppliers from Santa Monica and Santa Clara.

With MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, posing a threat to several of its 36 drinking water wells, the district has invited officials from the two water suppliers that have also had problems with the additive.

All three districts have had problems with leaking underground fuel tanks.

Rick Hydrick, the district’s operations manager, will update the board on the status of leaks that contaminated the Tata Lane well and threaten to contaminate other wells.

Then, Rey Rodriguez and Anthony Brown of the city of Santa Monica will describe that city’s nightmarish experience, when the city was forced to shut down half its wells after discovering significant levels of the fuel additive that was intended to reduce air pollution.

Santa Monica has received millions of dollars from the oil company that was responsible for the leaking gasoline to buy water from alternative sources for its customers. As with the suspected source of contamination of South Tahoe’s Tata Lane well, the Santa Monica fuel leak was from a new underground tank.

The board will also hear from Jim Crowley of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which has played an active role in protecting its groundwater basin. Officials from the Bay Area water district have testified before the California Legislature on bills seeking tighter control or elimination of MTBE.

Jim Jones, a South Tahoe director who serves on the Association for California Water Agencies’ water quality committee, said the workshop will give the district a better understanding of the potential threat from the gasoline additive.

“The politicians in Sacramento think this is a big issue, and the (oil) industry is realizing that this is a big issue too,” Jones said. “We want to look at all our alternatives. Maybe we want to take more direct action like Santa Monica did.”

The California Legislature approved a law this year that will subject the additive to a yearlong study by the University of California. The bill gives the governor the authority to ban the additive or take other action, if the study shows that MTBE is a threat to the health of the state’s residents or to the state’s water supply.

At a glance:

What South Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors

When: Thursday, 2 p.m.

Where: South Lake City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.


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