STPUD wants more power to keep water clean | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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STPUD wants more power to keep water clean

Andy Bourelle

Responding to the threat of MTBE, the South Tahoe Public Utility District took steps last night to make itself more powerful.

At a special public meeting, STPUD’s board of directors unanimously adopted a resolution of intent to adopt a Groundwater Management Plan, which could give the board regulatory authority over the district’s groundwater.

The GMP would give STPUD more authority to take actions to prevent future MTBE contamination and take actions against parties deemed responsible for MTBE leaks.

With the GMP, the water district could regulate the migration of contaminated groundwater, operate cleanup projects and coordinate with land use agencies to address activities creating risk of groundwater contamination.

Additionally, STPUD could take “any action necessary to protect or preserve the groundwater.”

“It gives you a lot of authority to go after those problems and do what you have to do,” Kevin Neese, the board’s general counsel, said at the meeting.

Neese said the board has that authority only within the district. However, STPUD also could take action outside of its boundaries if it is reasonably necessary to protect the groundwater and there is a direct relationship between the groundwater supply in the district and the supply where the action is to be taken.

STPUD could have the power to “implement and enforce” the GMP, giving it authority to adopt rules and regulations and administer fines if necessary.

Neese indicated the GMP, if adopted, could be implemented by May 1999. In upcoming months, STPUD staff will gather information and create an ad hoc advisory committee made up of residents to help create the plan. The GMP likely would be completed by March 1999, and a public hearing for its adoption could be held in April. District residents have the ability to protest the GMP and can stop its creation with 50 percent of the people against it.

The district’s ability to adopt the GMP comes out of California legislation passed earlier in the 1990s.

Neese estimated the cost of developing the GMP at about $50,000. The cost of administering it would depend on several factors, he said, but it could cost another $50,000 a year.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a gasoline additive which has contaminated the groundwater in various places throughout the district by leaking from gas stations. Ten of STPUD’s 34 wells have been shut down as a precaution because traces of MTBE found in the vicinity of the wells.

Exact potential health hazards have not been determined, but MTBE-contaminated water has an unpleasant taste and odor, making it undrinkable.

STPUD customers have been facing water-usage restrictions since the end of July.

About 25 people attended the meeting.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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