Representatives support pipeline |

Representatives support pipeline

by Andy Bourelle

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives support the South Tahoe Public Utility District receiving $7.15 million for its recycled water export pipeline – and now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency knows it.

Congress passed legislation last year that would provide the money to STPUD. However, STPUD and the U.S. EPA disagree on how the money should be given to the district.

The House sponsors of the bill – Reps. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), John Ensign, (R-Nev.) and Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) – sent a letter to EPA Monday, urging immediate release of the $7.15 million, saying it is “consistent with the direction we laid out in Congress when this project was authorized.”

STPUD is pleased with the support.

“With the leadership of these gentlemen, the House of Representatives pledged to help us with this pipeline. … Now they are standing up and fighting for funds that should already be here, but which are held up in the Washington bureaucracy,” said Chris Strohm, STPUD board member. “We appreciate it when political officials, like these three U.S. Congressmen, actually honor their word.”

STPUD has spent the past few years working to replace its recycled water export pipeline, which carries 1.7 billion gallons of recycled water 26 miles to Alpine County each year.

STPUD is now completing Phase 2 and so far has spent about $22 million on the project. Borrowing $5 million, the district went forward with Phase 2, expecting to receive $7.15 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a result of the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe.

STPUD must have a 45 percent local match to the $7.1 million, and now STPUD and EPA are in disagreement about what STPUD expenditures count as a match.

STPUD, Doolittle, Ensign, Gibbons and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) – the author of the Senate’s version of the bill – argue that STPUD’s expenses before the time of appropriation, October 1997, should be taken into consideration.

However, EPA maintains that is a significant departure from its normal procedure.

Since October 1997, STPUD has spent about $5 million, which is not quite its 45 percent of the match.

EPA has said it can give STPUD about $3 million – 55 percent of what the district has incurred so far – and then reimburse the district 55 percent of all future costs, until EPA has spent the $7.15 million. Or, according to EPA, STPUD can spend all of its 45 percent – about $5.8 million – and then be reimbursed the $7.15 million in its entirety.

STPUD, with the support of the House and Senate representatives, feels it is entitled to all $7.15 million now.

Boxer wrote a letter to EPA about the issue in August, and her staff has been involved in discussions with the EPA.

The original pipeline was installed in the 1960s, under state mandate to pump wastewater out of the basin. The pipeline travels 26 miles to the Harvey Place Reservoir in Alpine County, where the recycled water irrigates 4,600 acres of STPUD and farm lands. Traveling underground, the pipe carries 4-1/2 million gallons of recycled water a day along Highways 50 and 89, going over Luther Pass.

The treated wastewater is not dangerous. It is valuable for agricultural needs, but the nitrogen and phosphorous content can spur the growth of algae, which could reduce the clarity of Lake Tahoe.

President Clinton supported the pipeline in 1997.

“We stood with President Clinton and his cabinet along the shores of Lake Tahoe as he announced the administration’s intentions to deliver $50 million in funding for various environmental projects,” the letter states. “The cornerstone of the president’s $50 million commitment, as you’ll recall, was the $7.1 million in pipeline funding that we had already proposed in the House. … The president made a series of strong commitments to Lake Tahoe when he visited us last year. We hope, at a minimum, that his administration will live up to seeing these promises come to completion, as we are committed to delivering our part in Congress.”

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