STPUD looking to find leaks faster |

STPUD looking to find leaks faster

by Andy Bourelle

The South Tahoe Public Utility District hopes to fill a gap in preventing gasoline groundwater contamination that neither El Dorado County nor the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board can fill.

El Dorado County Environmental Management is responsible for checking to make sure service stations are complying with regulations. After there is a fuel leak or a spill, Lahontan makes sure the responsible parties clean up the contamination.

However, except for the stations themselves, there is no regulatory body that monitors for contamination and sees to it that cleanup happens as quickly as possible. Systems have alarms, but sometimes they can be broken or ignored.

In the past, sometimes neither STPUD, the county nor Lahontan knew of leaks until contaminant plumes had traveled hundreds of feet and drinking water wells had already been ruined.

STPUD hopes to create what’s called an EDIR – Early Detection, Immediate Response – program. Three monitoring wells would be installed at each gasoline service station within STPUD’s jurisdiction. The utility district or a third party would monitor the wells. If MTBE or other contaminants reached one of the monitoring wells, STPUD could quickly mobilize cleanup activities.

“All the monitoring wells would be down gradient from the dispenser area. They would detect any leaks essentially immediately, when they are still on the property,” Cocking said. “Then there would be an immediate response, keeping the spill very, very small.”

The problem with the program is the cost: $20,000 for installation at each station and $8,000 for each year after. STPUD can’t pay it and doesn’t want the stations to have to do it, either.

“The station owners have been beat up financially for a long time (because of contamination),” said Dennis Cocking, STPUD information officer. “We’re trying to see if there’s some state funds or (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) funds. We’re trying to see if somewhere out there we can tap a source of money for this.”

Because many of the district’s wells were shut down by MTBE contamination, the STPUD board of directors last year initiated action to start the process of adopting a Groundwater Management Plan. The plan would be a way for the agency to have more authority over the groundwater within its jurisdiction.

The district’s ability to adopt the GMP comes out of California legislation passed earlier in the 1990s. When the board agreed to pursue the option, the intent of what would be done was vague at the time. With the GMP, the water district could regulate the migration of contaminated groundwater, operate cleanup projects and even fine those deemed responsible for contamination. Many of those possibilities likely would have been a duplication of Lahontan’s job.

However, a GMP Stakeholder Advisory Group has been meeting since December 1998, and it has since narrowed the GMP’s focus to the EDIR program.

Lauri Kemper, chief of Lahontan’s Tahoe unit and member of the advisory group, said the proposed STPUD plan will fill a niche.

“There’s really no duplication of effort,” she said.

Because the funding hurdle has stalled the GMP efforts, Cocking said he had no estimate on when the ordinance could be adopted.

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