Research complete on Donner fuel spill | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Research complete on Donner fuel spill

David Bunker

Biologists have completed a study on the health of Summit Creek, where a fuel spill was discovered in early spring.

State and regional environmental officials will use the results of the study as the basis for fines that could be levied on Kinder Morgan, the owner of the fuel pipeline.

Officials are still unsure how much diesel and gasoline leaked from the pipeline, even though it has been five months since a skier discovered the leak near Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. The study on the section of pipe that failed still has not reached the desks of the California Department of Fish and Game or the regional water quality control board, according to the agencies.

Preliminary analysis on the pipe show that “wrinkle bends” in the pipeline – which were made during construction of the line – were weakened by corrosion, resulting in the fuel leak, according to the Office of Pipeline Safety, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Since April, officials have studied plants, water bugs, wildlife and soil to see how the fuel leak has affected the delicate alpine environment of the summit.

But the results of the complex studies may take months to be formalized, said California Department of Fish and Game Spokeswoman Carol Oz. The observations taken during the field tests are being compared to nearby areas that were untouched by the diesel and gasoline that flowed out of the broken pipe, to determine the extent of the damage.

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“When they run out those tests, we will know just how bad it is,” Oz said.

Tammy Lundquist, an engineering geologist with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the report on the section of pipe that leaked is one of the major missing pieces the board is waiting on before taking any action.

“When we get that report we’ll evaluate that and determine the next steps,” Lundquist said.

Right now the creek is almost completely dried up. Water sampling has been stopped because of the low flows. But the smell of petroleum still lingers around certain sections of the creek, said Oz.

When Summit Creek begins to flow again in the fall, water test will start back up, officials said.

“The stream’s almost dried up,” Lundquist said. “They’re really not finding anything.”

Wildlife, soil and plant study results may not be released for another six months, said Oz.