EPA funds arrive for STPUD pipeline | TahoeDailyTribune.com

EPA funds arrive for STPUD pipeline

by Andy Bourelle

In a story about misunderstandings, disagreements and the fate of a big bundle of money, the latest chapter in a tale of two agencies is a positive one.

While the South Tahoe Public Utility District and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency battled for months over millions of dollars and the fate of a 26-mile pipeline, the two agencies announced last month that an agreement had been reached.

The latest news? The agreement is the real thing; the money is coming.

STPUD has received $5.4 million from the federal agency for its recycled water export pipeline. The payment came a month earlier than expected.

“This $5.4 million from EPA puts us over the halfway mark in receiving the $9.6 million appropriated by Congress for the pipeline,” said Bob Baer, STPUD general manager. “Getting this money has been a painful process, but I think I can say that the bumps and bruises have led to a greater awareness, a greater appreciation, for the goals of both of the agencies. Good working relationships between locals and the feds are not easy to achieve or maintain, but when the protection of Lake Tahoe is the ultimate goal, it’s worth the effort.”

The EPA agrees.

“It’s always good when government agencies understand how each other operates. It helps them work more efficiently together. That’s certainly the case with us and the district now,” said Ken Greenberg, a member of EPA’s Lake Tahoe project team. “Hopefully, we’ll just look toward the future now and get this project done.”

STPUD has been working to replace its recycled water export pipeline for the past few years. It carries 1.7 billion gallons of recycled water 26 miles to Alpine County each year, where the water irrigates more than 2,000 acres of ranch land.

By state law, STPUD is not permitted to release any of its recycled water into the basin. It is high in nutrients that ultimately would lead to algal growth in Lake Tahoe, contributing to the diminishing clarity. Originally built in the 1960s, under mandate to pump wastewater out of the basin, the pipeline had experienced breaks and spills.

About $7.15 million was appropriated by Congress in 1997 to go to STPUD to help for the construction of the new pipeline. Because of the promise of the funds, STPUD borrowed $5 million to complete its 1998 phase of the project.

However, EPA and STPUD last year were in disagreement about the money.

STPUD had already spent $22 million on the project, and utility officials said that money should be counted as the district’s financial match. EPA said that was a significant deviation from its standard procedure. EPA usually counts only what agencies have spent since the time the federal agency awards the money.

Because no agreement had been reached, STPUD’s board in November 1998 canceled the construction phase planned for 1999.

Congress appropriated another $2.5 million for the project in 1998. As STPUD incurs more pipeline-related costs, EPA will continue to make payments to the district.

STPUD plans to request another $3.2 million from Congress this year for the project.

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