Well rendered useless after pipeline bursts | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Well rendered useless after pipeline bursts

Gregory Crofton

The South Tahoe Public Utility District says it will spend about $10,000 to drill a well for a home on Grass Lake Road because of a spill from its export pipeline last month.

The treated sewer water, en route to Carson Valley for irrigation, sprayed from a section of pressurized pipe the district had recently replaced.

About 430,000 gallons of the wastewater escaped, eroding soil around the pipeline and sending water across the yard and into the well of Grass Lake Road resident Beth Jett.

Jett, her husband and three children have lived in a house rented by the district in the Tahoe Keys for the last two weeks. They plan to remain there until the new well is ready in a few weeks.

“So far so good,” Jett said. “We’re dealing with it but it’s not fun. We’d much rather be in our own house.”

Replacing the well was the best option because it tested positive for coliform, which is bacteria found in fecal matter, preventing the family from drinking the water, showering or washing clothes.

“We tried rehabbing their well but we haven’t been able to get it clear,” said Dennis Cocking, district information officer.

The district’s wastewater was not the source of the coliform in Jett’s well because its wastewater is treated with chlorine, which kills all bacteria, Cocking said.

But, he added, the district is to blame in part because the wastewater flowed down the driveway of the district’s Luther Pass pump station and likely picked up fecal matter left by birds, dogs or other wildlife before it reached Jett’s well.

The contaminated water entered the well because it was built a long time ago and wasn’t sealed with concrete, a technique now required by state law. With no concrete barrier around the well, surface water can flow right into it, Cocking said.

The district has been required by the state to export its wastewater out of the basin since 1969. Other utility districts in the basin must export their water too.

The section of the export line that sprayed the wastewater is under a lot of pressure because it transports the water over Luther Pass. Sixteen miles of pipeline are required to transport the water from the district’s plant near Al Tahoe Boulevard up and over the pass.

The wastewater escaped from the “B-line” section of the pipeline, the last section of pipe in the basin that needed to be replaced because it dated back to the 1960s.

After the spill, the district stopped exporting water out of the basin, keeping it in emergency retention basins it owns near Black Bart Avenue and Pioneer Trail. The district began exporting water again Oct. 29. This week Cox and Cox, the contracting firm that replaced the piping, finished revegetating land affected by the spill.

“The in-basin export line replacement is done,” Cocking said. “I think it’s reasonable to assume it will have a 50-year life span.”

The portion of the export line outside the basin, which runs to a dam the district owns in Alpine County, is about 11 miles long. It is not pressurized because it runs downhill; therefore, it will not need to be replaced until 2020.

District customers receive sewer bills that cost an additional $27 a quarter to cover the expense of exporting the wastewater. Ensuring that the water does not stay in the basin helps protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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