Investigation continues into sewage spill |

Investigation continues into sewage spill

Gregory Crofton

Tribune staff writer

About 17,500 gallons of sewage – enough to fill a 16-foot long oval-shaped swimming pool with an 8-foot deep end – escaped from an underground pipe that ruptured along Al Tahoe Boulevard last week.

South Tahoe Public Utility District provided the estimate Thursday after analyzing flow rates for its system of underground pipes. Sewage burst from the pipe July 2 after a SBC telephone contractor accidentally punctured it with a drill.

Sewage flowed from the pipe for about 40 minutes, running down Al Tahoe Boulevard into a storm drain at Johnson Boulevard intersection.

“We were able to clean it all up, but it was quite a bit,” said Dennis Cocking, district information officer. “Nothing made it to the lake. They were able to suck everything up and disinfect it with sodium hypochlorite, which is like double-strength household bleach.”

The cleanup also involved removal of a layer of contaminated wood chips and dirt around the edge of the disc golf course at Bijou Community Park.

“If someone had contact with raw sewage we’d be concerned about disease transmission,” said Ginger Huber, Tahoe division manager for the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management. “It’s a public health and safety issue.”

Cleanup was overseen by Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management.

Lahontan has the power to issue a fine for a sewage spill, but the state agency has not decided if it will issue a fine because it is still working to find out exactly how the rupture occurred, said Robert Larsen, an environmental scientist at Lahontan.

At first it appeared that contractors for SBC made a mistake and drilled in the wrong place. But Heather Alexander, spokeswoman for the telephone company, said the contractors took extra precaution to locate the pipe in an effort to avoid such an accident.

“Apparently this pipe was placed a very long time ago,” Alexander said. “We trenched 10 feet down on either side and we also hand trenched 5 feet down and didn’t find anything.”

SBC said it is investigating the accident. The district is too.

“It may not always be clear cut. A lot of stuff in the ground went there many, many years ago,” Cocking said. “We have an on-going investigation to figure out what happened. We know our crews went out there and marked the line. We felt it was accurate but there is always a potential for something unexpected to be there that no one could know about.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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