Landfill cleanup poses problems |

Landfill cleanup poses problems

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The old landfill at Meyers stopped accepting garbage in 1971 after 24 years of operation. Workers there burned waste collected from homes and businesses until 1960, then they began burying it.

Over the years, waste brewed in the ground and by 1996, monitoring wells at the site detected harmful organic compounds such as vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.

Rain and snow are seeping through the landfill’s soil cap and carrying the compounds to groundwater. The compounds have been found 1,100 feet north of the landfill, with vinyl chloride registering the highest concentrations. Some of the compounds have been detected in Saxon Creek, but have yet to cause any permanent damage, experts say.

“The area north of the landfill, Saxon Creek and Trout Creek, is where potential exists,” said Jerry DeGraff, project manager at the U.S. Forest Service. “It is a threat to potential drinking water resources.”

DeGraff said the sooner the cleanup begins, the better.

“It’s estimated to take 30 years to clean up what’s there,” he said. “Groundwater doesn’t move very fast. If you let it get bigger and more concentrated, then the cost goes up exponentially.”

The U.S. Forest Service manages the property where the landfill sits. It plans to clean the contaminated water and fix the problem, but still hasn’t determined how to do the job.

The Forest Service wants to hear from the public before it makes a decision. The deadline for public comment, which was pushed back, is now March 18. Two public meetings about the landfill have already taken place at the South Lake Tahoe branch of the El Dorado County Library.

“We’ve gotten nothing specific as far as written comments, but we’re expecting people to send in comments right up to the deadline, especially for technical people, like South Lake Tahoe Public Utility District, for example,” DeGraff said.

The Forest Service is going to fund the project through the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. CERCLA provides federal money to finance the project until it can recoup the expenses from a responsible party.

DeGraff said the city and county have already contributed money to the project. Lawsuits filed against insurance companies associated with the landfill may produce money to pay for the project, DeGraff said.

El Dorado County operated the landfill with a special use permit from the Forest Service. From 1950 to 1970, South Lake Tahoe, Douglas County and El Dorado County, all dumped garbage there. The landfill contains a layer of garbage 20 feet deep.


-The first option is the most expensive at $96 million. It requires digging the waste out of the ground and dumping it somewhere else. It also would involve installing 85-foot reactive barriers filled with iron. Water contaminated by volatile organic compounds would flow through the barrier and eventually render the compounds harmless.

-The second option, which the U.S. Forest Service has chosen as its preferred alternative, is the cheapest with a price tag of just more than $10 million. It would mean sealing the landfill with a rubberized cap which water cannot seep through and then pumping contaminants through a carbon filter system. The treated water would then be pumped back into the ground through filtered trenches or injection wells. A drawback to this option is that it would require maintenance of the pumps and filters for about 30 years.

-The third option, which would cost about $14 million, requires sealing the landfill with a rubberized cap and then installing iron-filled reactive barriers in the soil to treat the contaminants. This option has a higher construction cost than second option because the reactive barriers must reach 85 feet down to the aquitard, an impenetrable soil layer.

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