All’s well with district’s new well |

All’s well with district’s new well

by Andy Bourelle

Finally, there is good news for South Shore’s primary water purveyor, an agency plagued in recent years with MTBE problems and consequently bad luck.

Preliminary reports show that the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s new $355,000 well will be contaminant-free and likely capable of producing significant amounts of water for the utility’s stressed system.

“This will be a good producer,” said Dennis Cocking, STPUD information officer. “It looks like it will produce between 1,500 and 2,500 gallons per minute, which is on the high end of where we hoped it would be.”

Prior to September 1997, the district had 34 usable drinking water wells, ranging in capacity from a few hundred to a few thousand gallons per minute.

Then the MTBE problems began. Now eight wells are closed because MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – has been detected in their aquifers. Four others have been closed to avoid pulling nearby plumes closer.

STPUD’s Paloma well – one of the district’s most important wells, with the capacity to provide 2,500 gallons per minute – has been operated at half capacity since July 1997 to try to keep from drawing in a nearby plume of MTBE.

Cocking describes well drilling as a “crapshoot.” Regardless of the research that happens before drilling, officials don’t know for sure what they’ll have until they drill down into the groundwater.

STPUD drilled a new well in Meyers last year. Its water was contaminated with MTBE and now the well is on standby.

The crapshoot this time paid off, with the new Gardner Mountain well to be located on U.S. Forest Service land near Valhalla.

STPUD has planned a well in that area for years because it is away from any gas stations that could be potential sources for contaminants. Around-the-clock drilling started last month and lasted about nine days. Now that results are in regarding the water quality and capacity, officials will start building the actual drinking-water well. Work will continue until Oct. 15 – the season end date for all excavation at Tahoe – and start as soon as possible in the spring.

While presently a huge sound barrier envelopes the site and a tall drilling rig sticks up dozens of feet into the air, Cocking said the completed well will be almost invisible. STPUD plans to revegetate the disturbed area. Only a small concrete pad and a painted-green ventilation pipe will be there, hidden by new trees.

Pipes will travel underground to an existing red barn on State Route 89. That is where the well’s accompanying infrastructure will be housed.

“From an aesthetic standpoint, once it’s revegetated, you’re going to have to almost walk into the ventilation pipe to see it,” Cocking said.

The district serves water to about 30,000 people. That number can be as high as 60,000 during busy summer months. Customers were asked to abide by mandatory water-usage restrictions from June through August, not because of the lack of water but because of the agency’s currently depleted infrastructure. The new well is supposed to specifically help the “Y” area, where numerous wells have been affected by MTBE leaks.

STPUD is set to take over providing water to the Forest Service’s South Shore recreation area from Lukins Brothers Water Co. on Oct. 1. The current agreement is only through May 15; however, officials say a long-term plan likely will be worked out.

Cocking said the new well will be used to provide that service, but the Forest Service won’t monopolize its water.

The Forest Service area – Camp Richardson Resort, the Tallac Historic Site, Visitors Center at Taylor Creek and campground at Fallen Leaf Lake – likely will need only about 10 percent of the well’s capacity, Cocking said.

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