TRPA goes to the well |

TRPA goes to the well

by Andy Bourelle

Would you want a gas station built next door to the public well that provides water to your home?

No regulations exist now that give Lake Tahoe water purveyors or county health departments any opportunity to comment when such projects are proposed near drinking water sources. In fact, water companies and health officials likely wouldn’t even know a gas station or auto shop was going near a public well until construction was under way.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is looking to change that with a source water protection program.

“It’s unique in that it’s a proactive approach to protecting source water,” said Jon Paul Kiel, TRPA planner. “Almost all of the ordinances in place now to protect source water address what to do in the event a spill occurs. This is proactive instead of reactive.”

The ordinance would give water purveyors, such as the South Tahoe Public Utility District, and health departments, such as El Dorado County Environmental Management, the opportunity to comment when businesses with possible contaminating activities are planned near a drinking water source.

A map of the basin is being developed to show 600-foot protection zones around all wells, lake intakes and springs that serve at least five connections. Businesses considered as potential sources of contamination include gas stations, auto repair shops, laundries, dry cleaners, storage yards, hospitals, boat-launching facilities, marinas and grazing operations.

The potential businesses may have to install special BMPs – best management practices – or take other action to make sure the drinking water sources won’t be contaminated.

“It costs much less to prevent contamination than it does to clean it up,” Kiel said.

TRPA’s planning commission will hear the proposal next week, and the agency’s governing board is supposed to act on it Dec. 15.

The proposal has the support of numerous public water providers and water agencies around the basin.

“The TRPA-proposed ordinance will complement our department’s program and further protect our drinking water in the Lake Tahoe region,” said Virginia Huber, Tahoe division manager for El Dorado County Environmental Management.

There are more than 80 sites in the Tahoe Basin where gasoline or diesel fuel has been spilled onto the ground or leaked from storage tanks. More than 30 of those involve MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether, which moves quickly in groundwater and is more of a threat to water wells than most gasoline compounds.

STPUD, which supplies water to about 30,000 people through 12,500 connections, has closed more than one-third of its wells because of MTBE contamination.

Seven wells in the “Y” area – belonging to STPUD, Lukins Brothers Water Co. and private property owners – were shut down earlier in the 1990s because of contamination from the carcinogen PCE, tetrachloroethene. Dry cleaners and auto shops, of which the “Y” has several, can be sources of PCE.

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