STPUD: Only in extreme emergency will MTBE-tainted wells flow |

STPUD: Only in extreme emergency will MTBE-tainted wells flow

A catastrophe of almost biblical proportions is going to have to happen this summer before South Shore’s primary water supplier serves MTBE-tainted water, according to Duane Wallace, board member of the South Tahoe Public Utility District.

“The headline in the press shouldn’t be ‘Board is considering serving water with MTBE.’ It should be ‘What happens if Hell freezes over and the Apocalypse (happens)?'” Wallace said at a STPUD meeting Thursday.

The utility district has closed more than a third of its drinking water wells in the past 18 months because of MTBE contamination in the groundwater. Since the first traces of the controversial additive were discovered in two wells in 1997, the board has had an unofficial policy of not serving any MTBE-tainted water.

The board now is considering the possibility of using some of the wells currently shut off but only in extreme situations. The board agreed to pursue the option Thursday, and at STPUD’s next meeting, directors will work out the details.

Mandatory water-usage restrictions are imminent this summer. Four of the district’s 12 wells on standby are not contaminated with MTBE. However, the wells are near MTBE plumes, and officials fear pumping the wells will draw in the contamination. MTBE moves very quickly in groundwater, and that rate increases drastically if a nearby well is pumping.

STPUD directors Thursday said the four wells without contamination may be used for short periods of time this summer. The district would monitor the contamination plumes carefully to ensure contamination would not reach the wells.

It would require incredible circumstances – such as a devastating fire – for the district to use the tainted wells, even if the levels of MTBE were below state and federal thresholds.

“The instances in which I intend to vote for that will be so strange I don’t think it will ever happen,” Wallace said. “Such as Emerald Bay freezing over in August or something like that.”

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