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Officials seek Lahontan audit

Patrick McCartney

A squabble between a Lake Tahoe water supplier and a regional water-quality regulator will be aired in a California legislative committee today, when elected officials seek a performance audit of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The request by Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller follows a dispute that erupted last year when the regulator ordered the South Tahoe Public Utility District to pay $50,000 for two spills of treated wastewater during the construction of a new wastewater export line.

The South Tahoe water supplier objected, saying the spills were unavoidable, and accused Lahontan of failing to protect the district’s water supply from more serious threats posed by leaking underground fuel tanks.

“Lahontan’s failure to promptly complete investigations risks losing the public’s confidence in its ability to protect the public and the environment,” said Jim Jones, chair of the South Tahoe utility’s board of directors.

While the two agencies have been working more closely in recent months, the chairman of the Lahontan board said the request for an audit seems pointless.

“Relations between us seemed to be improving, until they pretty much hammered us in the material they submitted,” said Jeff Long, who is also the public works director for the city of Lancaster. “It seems potentially to be a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Since Oller requested the audit last July, the South Tahoe district has marshaled support for the audit from a number of supporters, including state Sen. Tim Leslie, the Association of California Water Agencies and the Tahoe City Public Utility District.

The Tahoe City board of directors approved a statement to the joint legislative audit committee today that faults Lahontan for not addressing problems caused by Lake Tahoe’s high water level behind a 6.1-foot storage dam. The board also criticized the penalties Lahontan has ordered water suppliers to pay.

“Assessing a financial penalty against a public agency serves little purpose other than transferring public funds from one taxpayer pocket to another,” says the statement, which will be presented by David Antonucci, the district’s general manager.

In its own complaint, the South Tahoe district said enforcement action by California’s nine regional water-quality boards is inconsistent, and needs to be better coordinated.

Jones said Lahontan’s staff reported in September that it has issued cleanup and abatement orders on just seven of the 51 leaking underground tanks in the Tahoe Basin. Because Lahontan told the district it lacked adequate resources to take enforcement action, Jones said, an audit should help Lahontan define its enforcement priorities.

In an evaluation of the request, the Bureau of State Audits estimated an audit of Lahontan would cost $112,125 plus travel expenses. The money would come from the state’s general fund.

The chairman of the Lahontan board said an audit might have mixed results.

“It could mean more funding for underground storage tanks in that area, but it could end up in more controversy,” Long said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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