Lahontan gets state’s thumbs up |

Lahontan gets state’s thumbs up

B.H. Bose

Despite recent furor over leaking underground tanks in the Tahoe Basin and throughout the state of California, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board received the state’s endorsement on how it is handling its Underground Storage Tank program.

“Overall, they said our program is operating effectively,” said Bob Dodds, assistant executive officer for the Lahontan region. “They said the staff performance is very good …”

Back in September of 1996, the State Water Resources Control Board began auditing all nine regions. With an increasing number of underground water wells testing positive for contaminants, especially methyl tertiary butyl ether, officials at the state water board wanted to make sure each staff was responding to the problem. The examinations were conducted by the Office of Statewide Consistency, starting with Los Angeles and ending last September with Lahontan.

The audit was designed to identify problems and recommend solutions. The program started with the passage of state legislation in 1983, when it became evident that response by regulatory agencies was needed to combat the problem of leaking underground storage tanks.

The legislation eventually resulted in toxic units established within the regional water resources boards.

In a report sent to Harold Singer, Lahontan executive officer, State Water Resources Control Board Executive Director Walt Pettit, wrote: “Staff performance in this program is very good and their hard work is evident in the level of case oversight. The SLT staff in particular is effectively overseeing cases, responding quickly to RPs, and well documenting decisions and actions in case files.”

The caseload in the Lahontan region is very high, said Dodds, particularly in the Tahoe area because of the groundwater level. If the groundwater level is deep enough and “out of harm’s way,” then the county oversees any issue regarding it. However, once an immediate threat to the water arises, officials at Lahontan step in. And since the groundwater level in the Tahoe area is so low, those at Lahontan are doing a lot of walking.

“If there is anything that threatens the groundwater, it becomes a regional board case,” Dodds said. “Up here, the groundwater level is so shallow just about every leak becomes our jurisdiction.”

With the number of wells testing positive for MTBE factored into the equation, that caseload piles even higher. An additive in California gasoline, MTBE improves combustion to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide released from automobiles. Its use was approved in 1996 as a way to improve air quality. A number of health-related questions have arisen since then, and many people who have been in contact with the compound have complained of respiratory ailments.

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