Tahoe district has history of spills and fines
The South Tahoe Public Utility District was the first utility district in the Tahoe Basin to export wastewater out of the basin, when it completed construction in 1968 of a 27-mile pipeline to Alpine County.
But in the past 10 years, the district has paid a substantial price in civil penalties as the pipeline began to show its age.
Last year, the district began work on a $34 million replacement line, tackling the most troublesome segment of the export line first. While testing the completed section in the fall, the district’s contractors overlooked two problems, which resulted in spills of 35,000 and 230,000 gallons of treated wastewater.
In the first spill on Oct. 22, 230,000 gallons of treated wastewater was discharged, with only an estimated 25 gallons reaching the Upper Truckee River. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider a $10,000 civil penalty for the spill at its meeting in South Lake Tahoe on Friday.
In the second spill on Nov. 7, an estimated 20,000 of the 35,000-gallon leak flowed into the Upper Truckee River. The Lahontan agency has proposed a $40,000 penalty for that incident.
In the 12 years preceding the two incidents, the district had been assessed a total of $148,154 by the Lahontan regional agency. According to Lahontan’s records, the South Tahoe district had been cited for a total of 143 separate violations, including 17 for outfall violations, 29 for its treatment plant and effluent and 97 for collection system violations.
During the same period, the Lake Arrowhead Community Sanitation District was cited for a total of 24 violations and assessed $50,000 in fines, and the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency 25 violations and $12,400 in penalties.
But differences between the districts may not be entirely reflected by the numbers. While the Lake Arrowhead district does export its wastewater, for example, the Tahoe-Truckee agency does not. Nor does the Tahoe-Truckee agency treat the sewage it collects.
But officials with the South Tahoe district say they have been treated more harshly than other clean-water violators. No fines were assessed for any of the nine leaking fuel tanks that contaminated water wells in the Lahontan region, for instance, said Rick Hydrick, the district’s operations manager.
Bob Baer, the district’s general manager, said the figures are misleading, and that the district has made great strides in replacing the ailing export line.
“We will demonstrate that we’re not the worst district, and that our performance, with all these improvements, makes us one of the better districts,” Baer said.
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