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STPUD well could by ready by Thanksgiving

by Andy Bourelle

After losing 35 percent of its drinking water wells because of the threat of MTBE, residents might think the South Tahoe Public Utility District would be excited about drilling a new well.

That isn’t exactly the case.

“It has to be done. Providing water is our job,” said Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer. “But, it sure would be nice if this was the last well we’d have to drill because of MTBE.”



All weekend long, workers drilled a new well at the corner of Arrowhead and Hopi avenues in Meyers. Behind protective screens used to cut down on the noise problem, they drilled all day and night.

Testing will start today to make sure the water is not contaminated with MTBE or any other dangerous substance.



If everything goes OK, the new well should be providing water by Thanksgiving.

Plumes of the gasoline additive MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – have forced the utility district to close 12 of the district’s 34 wells, eight specifically contaminated.

Arrowhead wells Nos. 1 and 2, located where the new well will be drilled, recently have been filled with cement.

The new well will be drilled several hundred feet deeper than the destroyed wells, acquiring its water from a lower aquifer, protected from the contaminated water by an aquitard – a non-porous layer of clay which MTBE should not be able to permeate.

The capacity of the shut-down wells was 805 gallons per minute, and STPUD hopes to get 1,100 from the new well.

The total cost for the project is estimated to exceed $600,000. The cost to the district was not budgeted for, and STPUD is seeking reimbursement from the Kuehl fund, a California drinking water emergency response fund.

By state law, the district is required to aggressively pursue reimbursement action against the parties deemed responsible for the contamination, which, in this case, would be the J.E. Tveten Corporation, owner of the Meyers Beacon where the plume is believed to be coming from.

The J.E. Tveten Corporation currently faces an $84,000 fine from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board for its failure to comply with its cleanup and abatement order. Lahontan has taken over remediation of the site, having obtained about $300,000 from the state board for the cleanup.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive used extensively in California. It is considered a possible cancer-causing agent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At low levels, MTBE-contaminated water smells and tastes like turpentine.

Another new well project is under way to replace the water lost by the closure of several wells at the “Y” area. STPUD is trying to find a viable location for the well. Forsythe said STPUD hopes to have that well operating by June.

However, the reason STPUD has been able to move quickly on the new Arrowhead well is because the infrastructure is already in place at the site from the previous wells.

STPUD doesn’t have that luxury with the other well, which could cost more than $1 million to build.

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

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