Meyers well gets MTBE treatment system |

Meyers well gets MTBE treatment system

Gregory Crofton
Gregory Crofton / Tahoe Daily Tribune South Tahoe Public Utility District engineers on Friday place an MTBE water treatment system into place on Bakersfield Avenue so it can be fitted to a well that produces 1,500 gallons of water a minute.

The largest water provider at South Shore began the installation of its second MTBE well water treatment system in Meyers on Friday.

It will allow the South Tahoe Public Utility District to resume operation of a well on Bakersfield Avenue. The well produces 1,500 gallons of water a minute and will help to ensure there is an adequate water supply for peak summer demand, said Dennis Cocking, district information officer.

The district, which serves more than 17,000 homes and businesses, installed its first treatment system two years ago at a well on the corner of Arrowhead and Hopi avenues. Treatment allowed the well to reopen, increasing the district’s limited supply of water while adhering to the zero-detect policy it has adopted for the gasoline additive MTBE.

“It has performed as we said it would,” said Cocking.

The system eliminates any detectable trace of the additive from water before it gets delivered to a customer.

MTBE, which stands for methyl tertiary butyl ether, became the additive of choice in the early 1990s to make gasoline burn cleaner and reduce air pollution. By 1998, water quality officials had discovered it had leaked from underground gasoline tanks at service stations and was contaminating district and privately owned wells.

So far, MTBE has caused the shut down of 13 district wells. The additive was banned at Lake Tahoe Basin in 2001 and today it is outlawed in California.

MTBE is considered a potential human carcinogen at high doses, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. It mixes easily with water and spreads quickly underground. At higher concentrations the additive can also make water smell and taste like turpentine.

The treatment system for Bakersfield will cost $1.5 million to buy and install. The cost is being covered by the $35 million the district netted from a number of lawsuits it filed against oil companies that sold the product in the basin.

The Bakersfield well is hidden in a residential neighborhood by a wooden shell made to look like a house. The well has been shut down since June when trace amounts of MTBE, .3 or .4 parts per billion, were detected in its water.

The treatment systems used at both of the district wells are manufactured by Applied Process Technology. A combination of ozone and hydrogen peroxide is used to strip MTBE from the water. It creates harmless byproducts, carbon dioxide and water, unlike other systems that leave behind dirty carbon filters.

“We’re right on schedule (with the installation),” Cocking said. “We don’t anticipate any problems. It should be online by June 15 so we can have it up and running before the Fourth of July.”

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

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