Spill focus shifts to city
South Lake Tahoe’s utility district won’t be fined for a sewage spill Wednesday that sent 1,500 gallons of untreated sewage into the city’s storm drains, said a regional water-quality official.
But the city may be responsible for pumping tainted water out of a treatment pond into Tahoe Meadows, said Lauri Kemper, chief of the Lake Tahoe Unit with Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The raw sewage bubbled out of a manhole at Pioneer Trail and Larch Avenue Wednesday when an accumulation of grease blocked an 8-inch sewage collector line.
The spill occurred after two days of steady rain pelted Lake Tahoe Airport with 1.42 inches of precipitation. When the wastewater flowed into a storm drain, it was flushed by the storm runoff into an existing treatment pond south of U.S. Highway 50, with a portion then flowing into an interim treatment pond near the McDonald’s restaurant at Wildwood Avenue.
Officials are uncertain how much of the contaminated runoff overflowed into Ski Run Marina and how much was still left in the treatment pond when a contractor pumped water from the pond, filtered it and spread it on the ground to let it soak in. However, with the ground already saturated, some of the water ended up in a ditch that runs through Tahoe Meadows.
State water-quality rules prohibit the diversion of treatment pond water into Lake Tahoe, but Kemper said some of the water that was pumped from the pond entered a ditch at Tahoe Meadows, where it drained into the lake. So far, it is unclear how much of the sewage contamination remained in the pond when the city contractor pumped it, or how much had infiltrated into the soil before entering the ditch.
Chuck Taylor, an associate civil engineer with the city, said the contractor, White Rock Construction of Gardnerville, halted the pumping as soon as residents of Tahoe Meadows notified the city that water was running in the ditch. The city will complete a spill report and submit it to Lahontan.
Kemper said White Rock, working on the Ski Run Redevelopment Project, filtered the pond water through “4-by-4” square bags, which cleans most suspended solids from the water.
Ginger Huber of the El Dorado County health department advised Tahoe Meadows residents who have private wells to contact her at 573-3450 to have the water tested.
The temporary treatment pond will be replaced by two larger ponds before the redevelopment project is completed. Urban runoff draining into the ponds is filtered by wetland vegetation and is relatively clean by the time it exits the pond.
Contractors will use fill dirt scraped from the former Lake Christopher to line the treatment ponds. The California Tahoe Conservancy and the city restored the Cold Creek wetland at Lake Christopher in one of the first wetland restoration projects at Lake Tahoe.
When city contractors used fill dirt from the Cold Creek wetland to line the first two treatment ponds, officials were surprised to see a variety of wetland plants spring up when water flowed into the ponds and germinated seeds that had been in the dirt.
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