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Water restrictions end Saturday

by Andy Bourelle

The South Tahoe Public Utility District has good news and bad news for the public regarding its fight against the controversial gasoline additive MTBE.

The bad news: Another well has been shut down.

The good news: Water usage restrictions are being lifted, effective Saturday.

“The district is urging people to still use common-sense water conservation,” said STPUD Information Officer Dawn Forsythe. “But with the busy tourist season over, we’re in good enough shape that we can lift the restrictions.”

District officials shut down the Julie well near the “Y” Thursday, and now 11 of the STPUD’s 34 wells have been closed because of the threat of MTBE.

STPUD’s 13,000 customers have been facing restrictions since the end of July.

Results of tests done earlier this month on the Julie and South “Y” wells have not come back, which could confirm the belief that MTBE is present in small traces in the wells.

“Rather than fool around and keep testing, we decided to just turn (the Julie well) off,” Forsythe said.

The South “Y” well is a backup well and has not been pumping.

STPUD announced earlier this week that laboratory tests conducted the last week of August indicate MTBE may be present in small traces in the two wells. More testing has been done, and the results are expected soon.

The MTBE plume is believed to be coming from the South Lake Tahoe USA gas station.

The water from the wells is diverted to an air stripping tower, which was installed in 1992 to treat another contaminant called PCE. The stripper has been effective in removing low levels of MTBE.

Four wells in the area already have been shut down because of the MTBE threat.

The Tata Lane well No. 4, which is contaminated because of the suspected USA plume, also was connected to the air stripper, which successfully treated the water for several months. MTBE levels increased, and traces of MTBE were found in the treated water. The levels were below California standards, but STPUD shut the well down in July.

Tata wells Nos. 1, 2 and 3 were shut down in August because of the MTBE in the vicinity.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive that is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent. At low levels, between 15 and 40 parts per billion, people can detect MTBE in water. It smells and tastes like turpentine.

The owners of the USA gas station – USA Petroleum out of Agoura Hills, Calif. – voluntarily shut the station down in August. Remediation efforts are under way to control the MTBE plume.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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