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Tahoe Keys takes steps to comply with water regulators

As part of an agreement with California water regulators, the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association plans to spend $198,000 over the next five years on installing sediment traps in Keys’ street drains. It also will treat water and remove exotic weeds in the lagoons, as well as have two scientific studies completed.

The property owners association reached an agreement with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board on Tuesday, one day before the state agency’s board was to review whether to uphold a fine against TKPOA for $260,000. Negotiations had been ongoing for 10 months after TKPOA allegedly released 858 million gallons of aluminum-contaminated water into the Tahoe Keys – a community of islands, lagoons and bays on Tahoe’s south shore – in the summer of 1998.

“The settlement is a good thing. We feel the settlement will benefit not only the Tahoe Keys but also the whole Tahoe region,” said Ed Hutt, general manager of the property owners’ organization.



Lauri Kemper, chief of Lahontan’s Tahoe unit, said if the fine was imposed the money would go to the state board and not necessarily be used at Tahoe.

“We would rather have the money go to something proactive as opposed to having no control over it,” she said.



The Keys water treatment plant pulls water in and adds a chemical called alum, which contains aluminum. Alum particles attach to pieces of sediment in the water and they settle inside the plant. When the water is discharged back into the lake, the alum and sediment are supposed to stay in the facility.

From Aug. 6 to 31 of last year, however, too much alum was used. The treatment facility released 858 million gallons of aluminum-contaminated water.

Levels of the dissolved metal in the Tahoe Keys’ water exceeded chronic toxicity levels for aquatic life but not acute toxicity levels, meaning the pollution would not kill aquatic life immediately but could affect their reproduction, ability to defend themselves from predators and potentially shorten their life spans.

Terms of the agreement include:

n At a cost of about $56,250, TKPOA will install “DrainPac Storm Drain Liners” in 225 drop inlets in the streets within the Tahoe Keys. The drain packs – large sacks that will collect sediment – have never been used before in the Tahoe Basin. Lahontan officials are excited about the potential they may have for other areas.

“The key is, if this works, I think it’s going to have really wide implications,” said Harold Singer, executive director of Lahontan.

n TKPOA is going to help fund a University of California, Davis, study of Eurasian Water Milfoil, a non-native weed that has invaded the Tahoe Keys and other parts of the lake. The money TKPOA will provide for the study is $17,100.

The property owners group typically tries to remove Eurasian Milfoil each year. Another part of the agreement is that that activity will be increased.

n Working with California Fish and Game, TKPOA is going to have bioassessment studies of the Keys’ lagoons completed. The purpose will be to see if the Keys has any detrimental or beneficial effect on the biological balance with Lake Tahoe. The cost is expected to be $42,000.

n The association also plans to operate its water-treatment facility more than it typically has budgeted for in the past. For each day a year the association runs it beyond 30 days, TKPOA will receive an amount of monetary credit. It likely will be run one extra week for the next five years, for which Lahontan will give the association $57,000 credit.

Since poor operation of the water-treatment plant led to the situation, TKPOA has since completed an analysis to determine the appropriate quantities of the chemicals used.

Singer said the agreement is subject to change over the next five years. For example, if the studies cost more, the plant could be run less.

“If, for some reason, they don’t comply at the end of five years,” Singer said, “then they’ll pay the money.”


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