South Tahoe District asks for delay in spill complaint
Directors of the South Tahoe Public Utility District believe state water officials should delay a hearing on proposed penalties for a spill from the district’s new wastewater export line.
On Monday, the directors sent the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board a letter requesting a delay in the April 4 hearing, scheduled to be heard in Lake Arrowhead, until June, when the Lahontan board meets in South Lake Tahoe.
Lahontan staff has proposed seeking $50,000 in civil fines from the South Tahoe district for two leaks of treated wastewater last fall from a portion of the export line that was replaced and undergoing pressure tests. The leaks, which occurred on Oct. 22 and Nov. 7, resulted in the spill of 25 gallons and 20,000 gallons, respectively, into the Upper Truckee River.
News of the possible enforcement action elicited a flurry of sympathetic letters to the district from South Shore residents, who felt the Lahontan regional board was unfairly penalizing the district for replacing its outdated export line.
In the district’s letter, the board said the district had insufficient time to prepare a response to the Lahontan spill report. The district received the complaint in late February, but must file a response 10 days before the April 4 Lahontan board meeting.
And the district also noted that the meeting in Lake Arrowhead would make it difficult for the residents of Lake Tahoe to attend, or for the South Tahoe district board members, who have a meeting of their own scheduled for April 3.
In an interview, South Tahoe board president Chris Strohm said members of the board question whether the proposed fines are justified considering the modest amount of treated water reaching the Upper Truckee River. By the district’s estimate, the larger spill represented the equivalent of a single bag of fertilizer.
“The amount of fine seems disproportionate to the assault on the environment,” Strohm said. “Nobody’s perfect, we’re trying to do the right thing. We were testing the line, and the definition of testing is you don’t know if it is going to work.”
Strohm also suggested that the money to pay the proposed fines would be better spent by applying it to the replacement line project.
Harold Springer, the executive officer of the Lahontan regional board, said the state water-quality agency has already delayed the hearing twice, and usually does not grant a second delay.
And Springer defended the call for civil penalties over the leaks, saying that spills were not acceptable just because replacing the export line is an important project.
“They’ve done a good job implementing their project in a short time,” Springer said. “But that doesn’t give them the license to do the project in the least amount of time without the appropriate level of checks.”
And Springer said the Lahontan agency ignored two other spills that its staff considered unavoidable, but instead focused on two accidents it considered preventable.
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