Tahoe utility director named to additive panel | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe utility director named to additive panel

Patrick McCartney

The vice president of the South Tahoe Public Utility District has been appointed to a statewide advisory panel on a controversial gasoline additive, the district announced Wednesday.

Jim Jones, a civil engineer who has served on the district’s board for 16 years, will serve on a panel evaluating the impact of MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, on the state’s water supply.

The Advisory Panel on the Effectiveness of 1998 Standards for Underground Storage Tanks and Refueling Facilities at Marinas will meet for the first time on Dec. 17 in Sacramento.

The panel was appointed at the request of California Gov. Pete Wilson, who asked for the state Water Resources Control Board to seek representatives of local industry, local governments and water agencies. Wilson called for the formation of the advisory panel when he signed a bill that requires the state to conduct a yearlong study of the impacts of the fuel additive on the health of residents and the state’s water supply.

The oxygen-rich compound was added to some of the state’s gasoline in 1991, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered its use in states with high carbon monoxide levels. The additive reduces carbon monoxide emissions by improving combustion.

But the additive has come under fire from some researchers, who believe it poses a health threat, and from water suppliers, who say the ether-based compound represents a special risk to groundwater because of its solubility and resistance to breaking down in the soil.

Jones is a civil engineer who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency early in his career. He serves on the water quality committee of the Association of California Water Agencies, which nominated him for the advisory panel.

Jones is the lone Tahoe Basin representative on the panel.

“My focus on that panel will be to make absolutely sure that Tahoe’s issues are heard, and addressed, by the state of California,” Jones said. “South Tahoe is completely reliant on our underground aquifers for our drinking water, and preventing future contamination by MTBE is essential to the health of this community.”

The South Tahoe district has found traces of the fuel additive in two of its 36 wells, forcing the temporary closure of the Tata Lane well. Water from the well is now blended with water from two other wells, and treated at an expensive air-stripping tower.

The district first discovered MTBE in a well in 1996. At the time, it was one of the first water suppliers in the state to monitor for the additive’s presence.

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