Fines sought for South Tahoe spill |

Fines sought for South Tahoe spill

Patrick McCartney

Regional water quality officials will seek $50,000 in civil penalties from the South Tahoe Public Utility District as settlement for two spills last fall that occurred when the district was testing a portion of its new wastewater export lines.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board notified the district this week that it will seek $10,000 in fines for a spill on Oct. 22 of 230,000 gallons of treated wastewater, and $40,000 for a spill of about 35,000 gallons on Nov. 7.

While the first spill was larger, only about 25 gallons reached the Upper Truckee River, while at least 20,000 gallons entered the river in the second incident.

The district is prohibited from discharging treated wastewater in any stream, partly because the organic matter stimulates the growth of algae.

Both spills occurred when a contractor, C.R. Fedrick of Novato, Calif., was completing work on a $7 million project to replace a portion of the district’s line that exports treated wastewater out of the Tahoe Basin to Alpine County.

In the first spill, the treated effluent entered a ditch at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course and was largely contained. The problem, the district informed Lahontan, was the absence of blocks to ensure the seal between the new portion of the line and the old portion.

Two weeks later, the contractor filled the line for a final pressure test, but a spill occurred from a valve near the Upper Truckee Pump Station because of three missing plugs in a flange.

After the two incidents, the district refilled the line with potable water to eliminate the possibility of additional spills of wastewater, and no further spills were reported.

Scott Ferguson, an associate engineer with Lahontan, said he does not believe it was a mistake for the district to use treated wastewater for the pressure test, since the district had successfully used treated wastewater to test other portions of the new line.

“The impact of using treated wastewater is not clear-cut,” Ferguson said. “There are also repercussions from using fresh water, health concerns with the possibility of a tainted backflow contaminating the public’s drinking water supply.”

Lahontan’s board of directors is scheduled to consider the administrative penalties at its meeting April 3-4 at Lake Arrowhead, but the district could agree to the settlement before then.

“It’s possible we could get it all worked out before then,” said Julie Regan, the district’s public information officer. “We’re absolutely concerned about it.”

One of the subcontractors working on the project, Q & D Construction of Reno, has accepted responsibility for the Upper Truckee spill, Regan said. The district is withholding the final, $375,000 payment to C.R. Fedrick until the agreement is finalized.

But the district is still negotiating with the contractors over the golf course leak to see who will be responsible for paying the civil fine, she added.

As part of the settlement with the district, the Lahontan district has agreed to work with the district to see if there is a pattern to the spills that have occurred in the last five to 10 years. Regan said she believes the most recent incidents are unrelated to earlier spills, which mainly occurred in the aging export line that is now being replaced.

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