Sewage spill in Pioneer Trail neighborhood prompts protocol change |

Sewage spill in Pioneer Trail neighborhood prompts protocol change

Claire Cudahy
Homeowners near the sewage spill said the signs should have been posted earlier. In response, STPUD has changed its protocol.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A recent sewage spill in a South Shore neighborhood has prompted a protocol change for the local utility company — and serves as a reminder to be wary of what you flush down the toilet.

On Sunday, April 8, a manhole began to overflow on an undeveloped lot between Washoan Boulevard and Muskwaki Drive in the Pioneer Trail neighborhood. A neighbor called in the spill, and a crew from South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD) arrived and had the blockage broken within 90 minutes of the call.

The area around the manhole, which is a grassy-banked creek, was raked up and samples were taken around the area. However, to the concern of neighbors, no signs were put up warning of the contamination until Tuesday when the tests came back from the lab and alerted STPUD to high E. coli levels.

“That was our mistake,” said Shannon Cotulla, STPUD assistant general manager. “We are going to change our protocols. We recognize that we had a spill in the middle of a residential neighborhood and peoples’ kids or pets could be playing in that creek. We recognize that our response time in waiting for that lab test before we put up signs is not acceptable.”

Cotulla said all crews will now carry proper signs with them, and STPUD will put up signs immediately as a precaution until the lab tests come back.

According to Richard Solbrig, STPUD general manager, the circumstances around this spill were out of the ordinary since a majority of spills occur on pavement where it is easy to clean up or in areas where the sewage is quickly diluted and does not pose a threat.

This particular spill was caused by a blockage in the pipes from a “ball of fibrous material.”

“We often associate that with these wipes that are marketed as flushable, but aren’t really flushable. They don’t deteriorate in our system,” explained Cotulla. “In this case the fibers were much, much stronger. It was more like someone had flushed shop rags or some other type of product down the sewer.”

The material got caught on roots in the sewer line, causing the pipe to plug. The pipes, which neighbors say have caused back-ups at least a few times in the past, are slated for work soon, according to STPUD.

Cotulla said STPUD will continue to take samples from the area every 24 hours until the E. coli levels have returned to baseline, which he expects will happen in a few days.

“Typically exposure to sunlight and drying out is the best way to deal with E. coli in nature,” he added.

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