Sewage spills into creek | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Sewage spills into creek

Gregory Crofton
Gregory Crofton / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A South Tahoe Public Utility District employee uses a metal stick to locate a small pipe that branches off the district's sewer main. The goal was to plug the pipe to prevent future spills.
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A 4-inch pipe leaking raw sewage into Angora Creek was discovered Tuesday morning by a consultant making a routine check on a water monitoring station.

South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has a sewer main that runs along the creek, received word of the spill at around 11 a.m. and stopped it at 12:30 p.m.

The section of the creek affected by the sewage is in El Dorado County about two miles southwest of the “Y” between Mountain Trout Drive and Mountain Meadow Drive.

County health officials inspected the spill and determined the area does not present a risk to public health, according to Robert Larsen, environmental scientist for the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

But the sewage is bad for the environment because it contaminates the creek water and contains nutrients that could fuel algae growth in Lake Tahoe. Angora Creek flows into the Upper Truckee River before it empties into Lake Tahoe.

“When I arrived, there was raw sewage bubbling up into the creek and toilet paper deposits,” Larsen said. “Raw sewage into surface water is always a concern. Obviously nutrients will be impacting this waterway and this feeds into the Upper Truckee and the Upper Truckee flows into Lake Tahoe.”

There is no way to determine when the sewage release began, but Paul Sciuto, assistant manager for the district, said it appeared it hadn’t been going on for too long because toilet paper and other evidence stopped about 60 yards downstream.

“We did have our laboratory out here to take upstream, downstream and point of entry (tests) to find the extent of the impact,” Sciuto said. “It was plus or minus at least 90 minutes. But it could have been (spilling) much longer than that. That was when it was reported to us.”

It appears the district’s sewer main clogged up and caused the raw material to flow into the creek after an abandoned pipe buried under the creek broke, Sciuto said.

The pipe was meant to connect a home to the sewer main. It had never been used because it leads to undeveloped property owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy.

Sciuto speculated that once the pipe broke, water and silt from the river began flowing into the district’s sewer main and eventually clogged it. The blockage sent sewage from the main into the pipe and then into the creek.

The district is expected to deliver a final spill report to Lahontan in about a week. The district is not likely to be fined for the spill because it is not responsible for the maintenance of the pipe that broke.

In general, the responsibility lies in the hand of engineers who decided to put about 50 of the district’s 420 miles of sewer pipes in low-lying areas that are often environmentally sensitive meadows.

“They follow creeks in some instances,” Sciuto said. “If it was designed today, I would do my best to keep the sewer lines in the street.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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