City votes to go MTBE free |

City votes to go MTBE free

Andy Bourelle

If state and federal officials don’t take action to protect South Lake Tahoe’s water supply by April 1999, then the city will.

City council members approved unanimously Tuesday night a resolution intending to “consider a ban of the use of MTBE within the city of South Lake Tahoe to protect water sources which are vulnerable to contamination by MTBE if other governing agencies do not take action by April 1, 1999.”

South Lake Tahoe is the first California city to consider creating an MTBE-free zone.

“There’s a good chance that what we do in April is going to be followed and copied by a lot of other cities in the state, because this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Judy Brown, mayor pro tem.

Council member Tom Davis said, based on the current situation in South Lake Tahoe, he was unsure if the April deadline was soon enough. He suggested they make the deadline in 60 days. However, other council members indicated more time would be needed to ensure that a ban of the controversial gasoline additive would be feasible.

“We want to make a stand; we want to make a statement. We also want to do this thing correctly, if we do this on April 1,” Brown said.

“We don’t know what the impacts are likely to be at this point … I think this resolution in front of us is responsible and reacts to the circumstances,” council member Kevin Cole said.

Dawn Forsythe, information officer for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, said the resolution adequately addressed the problem.

From September 1997 to September 1998, 12 of STPUD’s 34 drinking water wells have been closed because of MTBE, cutting about 17 percent of the district’s water capacity. Four wells are currently threatened, and eight are contaminated, including two that have already been destroyed because of the contamination. Two projects are under way to drill new wells, and the total cost of fighting MTBE for the district is approaching $2 million.

Also, one of the five wells belonging to the Lukins Brothers Water Company has been found with MTBE contamination.

Al Moss, owner of two South Shore Chevron stations, told the council members he felt the oil companies would find a way to supply South Lake Tahoe stations without MTBE if it is banned.

“I truly believe they will not leave us high and dry,” he said.

He said he felt MTBE was a problem and that Chevron was concerned about the South Shore situation.

“From my perspective, the only solution to the problem is to remove the problem,” he said. “MTBE needs to go away.”

Mike Wang, a representative of the Western States Petroleum Association, attended the meeting and advised against banning MTBE, claiming that “no practical alternatives” currently exist. He said the petroleum association wants to try to find ways to keep gasoline from leaking and spilling. The association’s second objective, he said, is to find alternatives to the oxygenate.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is an oxygenate used in fuels to reduce vehicle emissions. It makes up about 11 percent of all California gasoline. It is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent.

MTBE can be detected in water at low levels of contamination and smells and tastes like turpentine.

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