South Shore officially outlaws fuel additive |

South Shore officially outlaws fuel additive

by Andy Bourelle

El Dorado County officials expect 100-percent compliance with a law that went into effect Thursday making it illegal to sell MTBE on the California side of South Shore.

However, they will be checking to make sure.

“I believe everyone will comply with it,” said Ginger Huber, manager of the Lake Tahoe office of El Dorado County Environmental Management. “There are some pretty significant penalties if they don’t.

“We will be going out (Friday) and early next week to check delivery receipts to confirm that they are getting MTBE-free gas,” she added. “We’ve also asked the California Air Resources Board to come out and check what’s coming out of the pump. We don’t know yet when they will be doing that.”

MTBE has endangered drinking water supplies in the area, contaminating many wells and threatening others.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors last month unanimously approved an ordinance making it against the law to sell MTBE in the county’s portion of the basin, punishable with $1,000 fines and six months jail time for each violation.

The ban went into effect April 27.

The governor of California last year ordered MTBE phased out of use statewide by 2003. And also as part of the order, he directed the state to work with oil companies to get MTBE-free gas to Tahoe more quickly. Tahoe officials, considering a local ban at the time, decided to take a wait-and-see approach and were satisfied as stations increasingly started serving MTBE-free fuel to the area.

Earlier this year, however, with at least four South Shore stations still serving MTBE, Supervisor Dave Solaro said he felt there had been enough time, and he would push a local ban.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive that has been used for years, and it is increasingly contaminating groundwater supplies nationwide.

A suspected human carcinogen, MTBE can render water undrinkable at low levels of contamination, giving it a turpentine-like taste and odor.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District, South Shore’s biggest water purveyor, has lost the use of more than a third of its wells because of MTBE.

What the ban says:

Prohibition of sale of fuel containing MTBE: Fuel containing MTBE is hereby banned from sale in the Lake Tahoe Basin within El Dorado County. The board of supervisors also recognizes and declares the Lake Tahoe Basin to be a sensitive subregion of the county with vulnerable groundwater that will be adversely affected by the sale of fuel containing MTBE.

Penalty for violation: Each violation of this chapter shall constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or six months in jail or both. A separate violation shall accrue for each calendar day in which said violation shall continue uncorrected and be punishable accordingly.

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