STPUD begins new well drilling |

STPUD begins new well drilling

by Andy Bourelle

Officials from South Shore’s primary water purveyor have their fingers crossed that a new well being drilled will help alleviate some of the hardships caused by the controversial fuel additive MTBE.

“We’re hopeful and confident it will come in being, No. 1, MTBE-free and, No. 2, a good producer,” said Dennis Cocking, information officer for the South Tahoe Public Utility District.

Officials started preparing for drilling the Gardner Mountain well Monday. It will be on U.S. Forest Service land near Camp Richardson Resort, far enough from any known MTBE leaks that officials believe the new well will be safe from contamination.

“This will be the first well we’ve drilled in a number of years,” Cocking said. “We’re always trying to evaluate potential sites for wells. The problem is finding one nowhere near any known or potential contaminant site, finding property available and then, if you find those two things, having an encouraging hydrogeologic study done showing there’s an aquifer there.”

Cocking said district officials hoped this well would produce more than 200 gallons per minute, an amount that would not put it with the district’s best wells but nevertheless would be substantial. It is supposed to specifically help the “Y” area, where numerous wells have been affected by MTBE leaks.

STPUD has agreed to start providing service to that area of the Forest Service at the end of the summer. And while the new well likely will help the district do that, drilling a well in that area has been planned by the district for more than a year.

Prior to September 1997, the district had 34 usable drinking water wells. To date, eight wells are closed because MTBE has been detected in their aquifers. Four others have been closed to avoid pulling nearby plumes closer.

STPUD’s Paloma well – one of the district’s most important wells, with the capacity to provide 2,500 gallons per minute – has been operated at half capacity since July 1997 to try to keep from drawing in a nearby plume of MTBE.

The district’s latest closure happened in January. STPUD’s Clement well pumped water that was completely MTBE free, but also used an air stripper to pull out a different type of contaminant. While clean going in, the water coming out of the stripper contained traces of MTBE. Tests concluded the tower was pulling in MTBE-laden air that contaminated the water.

The district drilled a new well in Meyers last year; however, to the district’s surprise, its water was contaminated with the additive.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a a synthetic chemical oxygenate added to California gasolines. It is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent. At low levels of contamination, it makes water undrinkable.

The district serves water to about 30,000 people through about 12,500 connections. In the summer, because of tourism, the total population served can be as high as 60,000. Customer’s have been asked to comply with water-usage restrictions since June 1.

District officials hope the new well can provide water to customers by winter. Drilling likely will start by early next week.

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