Dry cleaning solvent found in Lake Tahoe drinking water wells | SierraSun.com

Dry cleaning solvent found in Lake Tahoe drinking water wells

Jack Barnwell
jbarnwell@tahoedailytribune.com
A map shows the area investigated for groundwater contimation near South Shore's "Y" intersection.
Map courtey of Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board consultants will be in South Lake Tahoe this week to investigate the contamination of five groundwater wells used for drinking water.

Water samples will be collected from two municipal and three private domestic wells where Tetrachloroethene, better known as PCE, was detected last year.

“We appreciate everyone’s cooperation while we try to determine just how widespread this contamination problem is,” stated Lisa Dernbach, a senior engineering geologist for the Lahontan Water Board, in a news release.

According to the Lahontan Water Board, PCE is a carcinogenic compound normally associated with dry-cleaning activities, but it can also be used for metal degreasing, and it’s an ingredient in paint strippers.

Long-term exposure or consumption can increase cancer risk. If PCE contact is made through the respiratory system or skin exposure, it can depress the central nervous system and increase risk for Parkinson’s disease.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers five micrograms of PCE per liter to be the maximum concentration that is allowed in public drinking water. Lahontan Water Board does not believe the community was exposed to that level.

URS Corporation, a consultant, will collect groundwater samples from the affected area with a $125,000 grant from the State Water Resources Control Board.

Lauri Kemper, Lahontan Water Board’s assistant executive officer, said the agency found out about the PCE levels last year from Sonney’s BBQ Shack Bar & Grill on Emerald Bay Road. Lukins followed up with its own testing.

Lukins Brothers Water Company owns the two municipal wells in question. Both were placed in standby mode on July 11, 2014 after the company detected contamination.

This leaves only one municipal well for the small water company to supply its customers with drinkable water.

Jennifer Lukins of Lukins Brothers Water Company said South Tahoe Public Utility District stepped in to provide water to Lukins customers.

Prior to last year’s detection, the last PCE test Lukins Brothers conducted was in 2011.

Lahontan Water Board suspects the detections may be related to drought conditions and a lower water table.

Once lab results are finalized, URS Corporation will compile a report, which will be due by the end of 2015, according to Lahontan Water Board.

Lukins Brothers Water Company is tackling the problem from a different angle.

“Lukins Brothers Water Company will be installing a treatment plant at its ‘Y’ site and the wells are expected to be running within a year,” Lukins said.

According to Lukins, the water company is attempting to secure funding from the state’s Proposition 1 water bond that voters approved in 2014. Funding for the Lukins Brothers treatment facility depends on how soon the state releases Prop. 1 money.

Richard Solbrig, South Tahoe Public Utility District’s general manager, said his agency will continue to supply Lukins Brother with water in the meantime.

For more information on Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, visit http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/lahontan.