Donner water treatment plant delayed

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

Del Oro Water Co. announced its water treatment facility at Donner Lake will not be completed this year, due to continuing plan modifications.

The announcement Tuesday by Del Oro consulting engineer Bill Gustavfson stunned Donner residents who after years of anticipation, said they will have few other choices but to continue using water from Donner Lake, which receives no filtration, and is disinfected by doses (3.0 parts per million) of chlorine.

The announcement was made during a meeting between Donner Lake residents and Nevada County Department of Environmental Health.

No managers from Del Oro Water Co. were present for the meeting.

Del Oro Water Co. has been planning to build the new water treatment facility since they purchased Donner Lake Water Co. in 1994. Donner Lake Water Co. was issued a compliance order in August 1993 to provide surface water treatment.

Now seven years later, the residents of Donner have yet to receive the surface layer multi-barrier treatment system.

Many of the residents of Donner Lake claim that Del Oro has been dragging its feet in building and obtaining the necessary permits to complete the process, and the that the organization has not provided information about water quality. Those who did receive the annual notification argued that the information explaining fecal coliform and MTBE concentrations, a toxic chemical injected into the water by motorized watercraft, is difficult to interpret and understand.

Others complained that their water has been turned off without notice, and that Del Oro has not responded to customer complaints.

Norm Greenberg, Peggy Zarriello, and Kathy Polucha represented the Nevada Country of Environmental Health, the regulatory agency for small water sources. Greenberg and Zarriello, who moderated the meeting, explained that Donner Lake is larger than their allowed jurisdiction, (less than 200 water connections) and that the 1,200 connections of Donner Lake places the body of water under the regulatory control of the State Health Department.

“The purpose of this meeting is to provide factual information and answer any questions you may have,” said Greenberg, explaining NCDEH’s role in organizing the meeting.

The discussion, however, soon became a chorus of discontent.

Janet Brady, a health professional, said she tried to reach Del Oro to complain and they hung up. Others said that they could not reach Del Oro to voice their concerns, and many had no idea a toll free number for comment was available. The number is listed under Donner Lake Water Co. at 800-655-3582.

Greenberg explained that NCDEH was concerned about the safety of the drinking water at Donner Lake. He encouraged the participants who felt the water had made them sick to submit their name and phone number for further query.

Many residents described specific symptoms they felt after drinking the water, and some explained that after they stopped drinking the water the symptoms dissipated.

One resident held up a water filter she had been using the previous month. It was solid brown.

Some water contracting specialists attending the meeting expressed concerns that if the treatment plant is built near the boat ramp MTBE levels would be too high, and the water could become even more toxic.

Gustavfson said the new treatment plant would have an intake pipe 100 feet off shore, and at the lowest water level, the pipe would still be 50 feet below the surface, where MTBE concentrations are highest.

The new treatment plant would be behind commercial structures at the northwest side of the lake on Del Oro property.

“We’re severely limited in where we can put this facility because of the development plans for the area,” said Gustavfson.

NCDEH water specialist Kathy Polucha urged residents of Donner Lake to call and write letters to Truckee’s Planning Commission, Del Oro Water Co., and Jess Morehouse from the State Health Department at 916-229-3141.

Residents with health concerns are urged to contact the the NCDEH for further investigation. Information is available from their web site at

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