North Tahoe beaches now open: Health officials give all-clear after test samples
North Shore beaches at Kings Beach State Recreation Area, Coon Street Boat Launch, Secline Beach and the public beach at the end of Deer Street are now open after samples taken Sunday showed similar or improved numbers from previous test samples in the aftermath of the Tuesday, July 19 sewage spill, Placer County officials announced Friday.
The closures were more than 20 miles away from South Shore beaches, which were not affected by the spill.
Still closed is the beach at the North Tahoe Beach Center, across the street from the Kings Beach Safeway, which is the beach nearest to the location of last week’s 120,000 gallon sewage spill.
Officials from the Placer County’s Office of Emergency Services, the North Tahoe Public Utility District, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, told a room of more than 70 concerned residents and business owners at the North Tahoe Conference Center their beaches could open early tonight if test samples fell within an acceptable range for two consecutive days.
The beaches opened around 4:30 p.m. ” about 90 minutes after the same group of officials hosted a question and answer forum for the North Shore communities affected by last week’s spill.
The spill created a health hazard on several North Shore beaches as well as put a crunch on Kings Beach and Tahoe Vista business, costing those merchants thousands of dollars in lost business.
“If we determine there is no longer a health hazard” the county will open the beaches, said Rui Cunha, the program manager with Placer County’s Office of Emergency Services.
Open beaches come as a huge relief to North Tahoe residents and business owners who have been unable to access Lake Tahoe in their towns the past 10 days.
Business owners like Dave Ferrari, whose family owns the Crown Motel in Kings Beach, questioned Cunha if the standards the county agencies were using in keeping the North Shore beaches closed were set too high in light of other federal standards for environmental health concerns that seem less stringent.
Dr. Jim Ganley, with Placer County’s Department of Health and Human Services, told the audience the spill contained human fecal matter, which could “cause an array” of health problems.
County officials also told the crowd they recognized the spill’s economic impact to Kings Beach and Tahoe Vista and were taking steps to look into financial assistance to affected businesses.
Last Friday, two inches of sand were removed in the vicinity of North Tahoe Beach where raw sewage was on the beach. Approximately 200 yards of sand were removed and trucked to the landfill, according to the North Tahoe Public Utility District. Workers also vacuumed water that remained in beach ponds after the spill.
Waves and the sun’s UV rays will kill the bacteria that exist in the water and sand, NTPUD officials said. The sand removal allows sunlight and UV rays to penetrate deeper into the sand and kill bacteria that may be present. NTPUD and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board are continuing to take daily water samples to determine when the remaining closed beaches can reopen.
“Officials must receive two consecutive tests within the acceptable range in order to reopen lake access,” the NTPUD said in a statement. “The acceptable range for Lake Tahoe is more stringent than federal standards due to the lake’s normal clarity.”
Agencies involved in managing the incident include the NTPUD, Placer County, Lahontan, TRPA, the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, the California Department of Fish and Game and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.
Last Saturday, officials opened the sandy beach portions from Secline Beach to the Coon Street Boat Launch, and the parking lot and picnic area of North Tahoe Beach. Large signs warned beachgoers that the water was still off limits, but that did not stop Matt Fleming of Huntington Beach, Calif., from going into the water in Kings Beach.
“I had my reservations, but I made the decision to go in,” Fleming said Sunday. “Anytime it rains in Southern California, the beaches close two to three days. They have low standards there. You guys have higher standards, which is why it is closed longer. I am taking my chances.”
Sam and Ursula Navarra of Reno said they decided to visit Kings Beach despite the closure of the beaches and enjoyed a picnic on the grass at North Tahoe Beach Sunday.
“We got the whole beach to ourselves,” Sam Navarra said. “It is nice and quiet. We don’t go in the water anyways.”
Butch and Suzanne Coglitore flew in Saturday night from New York, and had not heard about the sewage spill, but enjoyed laying on the grass.
“We are making the best of it,” said Suzanne Coglitore, who had never been to Tahoe before. “Tahoe is gorgeous. We are just enjoying the view.”
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