Utility district files sewage spill report
August 18, 2005
KINGS BEACH – Although the investigation continues into the July 19 sewage spill that closed five beaches here after thousands of gallons of raw sewage were released into Lake Tahoe, an agency charged with utilities released a report which recommends prevention measures to avoid similar spills from happening again.
Among the recommendations, the North Tahoe Public Utility District wants all permitting agencies to contact water and sewer districts and the Underground Service Alert USA North – a network which tracks underground utilities – prior to breaking ground.
“This incident should not have happened. The district will be vigilant to make sure changes occur so this doesn’t happen again,” said Steve Rogers, general manager of the NTPUD. “We want to make sure something good comes out of something bad.”
The district also recommends a group meeting among permitting agencies as a means to adopt such protocols.
The spill occurred when a worker with Tahoe City-based Pacific Built contractors punctured a 14-inch sewer main line that dumped an estimated 120,000 gallons of raw sewage onto the beach and into Lake Tahoe, during construction of a private pier at Kings Beach. All beaches in Kings Beach were closed for at least a week.
The contractor did not call the underground utility network before breaking ground, as required by California state law. However, easements for the 1969 sewer line were not shown on title documents issued to the property owners, according to the district’s report.
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The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Game all issued permits for the pier and none of the agencies contacted the utility district before issuing the permits, the report states.
“Proper notification by permit agencies to other potentially affected agencies (such as a utility district) is essential to the prevention of incidents of this nature,” the report states. “Had the district been notified and been involved as part of either the planning and permit process or prior commencement of the actual construction, the breach of the line and the resulting spill would not have occurred.”
Rogers said the emergency shed light on improvements that needed to be made in the district, such as tightening up procedures, updating its equipment list and noting what equipment other agencies have. He noted that the district’s mutual aid agreement with neighboring agencies was executed smoothly, but that more education and awareness of what services, assistance and support from other local and regional agencies was needed.
“I agree with the recommendations,” said Brad Banner, director of environmental health for Placer County, which requested a copy of the report and is doing its own investigation.
Rogers said Placer County agreed to co-host a regional training in October or November, after construction season is over. Banner said the county would work with the utility district on the training. Other agencies said they approved of the training and recommendations as well.
“We did agree after this event that we needed more training,” said Cindy Gustafson, assistant director of the Tahoe City Public Utility District, which helped with the sewage spill. “We are in total agreement with being involved with that process.”
Lauri Kemper, a division manager for Lahontan, said the district’s recommendations seemed “reasonable” and that the agency’s permits do not have a lot of conditions. Lahontan is “still gathering information,” Kemper said, and will be meeting with other agencies to make sure everyone has the same information.
TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said the agency has 32 different conditions on its permits, but none specifically require that USA North be called prior to excavating.
“As far as additional measures – that will be part of the investigation,” Regan said. “We will evaluate whether we need to change procedures.”
Regan added that TRPA is also moving forward with its investigation of the spill.
In its six-page report and adjacent appendix requested by Lahontan, the NTPUD stated that it “incurred substantial expenses in the repair of its sewer main and associated clean-up activities.”
“The district has an interest in recovering these costs from the responsible parties and has initiated its own investigation for that purpose,” the report states. “The district has advised parties of its intent to recover costs.”
Although the district did not have a total cost of all the expenses it incurred from the spill, the report contains receipts that show it cost $82 for a permit to dump 25 loads of seven to 10 cubic yards of raw sewage-saturated sand on July 22, and a bill from Lakewood Landfill in Reno for $692.60.
Rogers said that the district is doing its own fact finding and will wait to collect money after all the agencies complete their investigations.
“Everybody is on hold until the investigation is complete,” Rogers said. “We are not making a determination of who is responsible.”