Lahontan audit approved
California’s legislative audit committee approved a $112,000 audit of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board Wednesday, after listening to complaints from two Tahoe utility districts that the regulatory agency is unresponsive to their concerns.
With an 8-1 vote, the bipartisan committee requested the state auditor’s office conduct a review of the Lahontan board, which is one of nine regional bodies charged with overseeing water quality in the state. The state auditor indicated the work will begin in March.
Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller asked for the audit last year, after receiving complaints about Lahontan from the South Tahoe Public Utility District. The South Tahoe utility objected to $50,000 in civil penalties Lahontan levied against it last year following two spills of treated wastewater during the district’s construction of a new export line.
Officials with the South Tahoe district complained that Lahontan was aggressive in disciplining the public agency over spills, but lax in enforcing the cleanup of leaking underground fuel tanks owned by private companies.
At Wednesday’s hearing in Sacramento, Lahontan representatives said the agency was already examining its priorities, and suggested the audit request by South Tahoe was a response to last year’s fines.
South Tahoe officials disagreed, saying they have appealed the fines to the statewide Water Resources Control Board.
After the committee ordered the audit, South Tahoe Director Chris Strohm said the district’s dispute with Lahontan had been brewing for more than a decade, and that the district’s board began talking about an audit a year ago over unhappiness with Lahontan’s progress in cleaning up underground leaks from the Terrible Herbst service station.
“We were frustrated, and this is where we need to be,” said Strohm, the board’s vice president. “We feel it will have statewide significance, and will ripple through the entire state.”
South Tahoe was joined at Wednesday’s hearing by the Tahoe City Public Utility District, which had its own list of complaints about Lahontan’s oversight performance. David Antonucci, Tahoe City’s general manager, expressed concern about Lahontan’s land-use policies, inaction over Lake Tahoe’s high lake level and fines levied against public agencies.
“We have been at a disadvantage for many years, and this legislative audit was our last, best hope to get fairness in the system,” Antonucci said.
An Oller spokesman praised the committee’s action, saying a number of constituents had complained about the regional board.
“It was a huge victory,” said Tom Hudson, a legislative consultant. “It was an ongoing thing for over a decade, with water agencies complaining that the board was not responsive.”
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