Fuel spill in Donner Lake: The fish living there will feel effects of pollution, officials say
May 26, 2010
UPDATED: 2:30 p.m. Thursday, May 27
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Despite emergency response efforts, an undetermined amount of diesel fuel spilled by a wrecked tanker trailer on Interstate 80 this week has polluted Donner Lake and endangered wildlife in the area.
A three-axle tanker was traveling east on I-80 at about 6 a.m. Wednesday when the driver, Michael Anderson, 42, of Sacramento, slid on the icy road and overturned, colliding with the guard rail, rupturing the tank and emptying about 2,500 gallons of diesel onto the roadway, according to California Highway Patrol. Anderson was uninjured in the wreck.
The spill was partially contained, but an unknown amount of diesel fuel flowed down the mountain and made it into Summit Creek, at the western mouth of Donner Lake, by 11 a.m., according to Nevada County Environmental Health officials on scene.
Not knowing how much diesel got into the water and surrounding soil means cleanup crews have a lot of work ahead, compounded by the weather, said Alexia Retallack with Fish and Gameand#8217;s oil spill prevention and response, in a Thursday interview.
and#8220;Weand#8217;re going to be there from cleanup to restoration,and#8221; Retallack said. and#8220;We could be doing this for months and#8212; it all takes time.and#8221;
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Steven Poncelet of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District said no drinking water is threatened by the spill.
and#8220;We donand#8217;t draw any water from Donner Lake,and#8221; Poncelet said. and#8220;Our water comes from deep wells.and#8221;
Truckee Town Manager Lashbrook said the spill has the potential to impact water quality, fisheries, recreation and private property in the town; with Memorial Day weekend around the corner, he said there are no indications the lake will need to be closed, as of yet.
As of Thursday afternoon, Retallack said it doesnand#8217;t appear any closures will be necessary.
Kevin Thomas, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Game, said until a full assessment is completed, it is hard to summarize the extent of the damage to the ecosystem surrounding and#8212; and the cold water game living inside and#8212; the lake.
and#8220;The impact depends on how fast the creek is moving. But according to weather reports, itand#8217;s moving pretty fast,and#8221; Thomas said.
Fish and wildlife could also be in trouble, he said, and said local fish such as brown trout, rainbow trout, brooks trout, sculpine and minnows and#8212; depending on concentration of diesel fuel and#8212; could be potential spill victims.
and#8220;Pretty much anything aquatic is going to feel the effects of the spill,and#8221; he said.
Above water, Fish and Game Biologist Jason Holley said there isnand#8217;t much risk to wildlife from the spill, unless there is a large fish die-off that would affect the food source for birds like ospreys and bald eagles.
As of Thursday afternoon, Retallack said no impacts to wildlife have been reported.
The spill came down through Frog Creek to Summit Creek, through Truckee Donner Land Trust open space, said Perry Norris, executive director of the group.
and#8220;Weand#8217;re saddened that the brunt of the spill had to run through recently protected property,and#8221; Norris said. and#8220;But weand#8217;re pretty impressed with the response.and#8221;
Lisa Wallace, executive director of the Truckee River Watershed Council, said her concern is within stream habitat.
and#8220;There needs to be professional monitoring in these streams to find out what the impact is,and#8221; Wallace said, a project that would likely be taken up by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Truckee Meadows Water Authority officials originally reported as much as 3,000 gallons could have spilled from the truck, but 2,500 gallons is the more accurate number, according to CHP.
After the tanker wreck, eastbound traffic was stopped on I-80, and one lane opened at about 11 a.m. once the tanker was cleared. The other lane was cleared by about 4:50 p.m. Wednesday.
Bill Hauck of the water authority and#8212; standing on Old Highway 40 Wednesday morning above Summit Creek and#8212; said the area reeked heavily of diesel fuel.
Downstream at the South Shore Drive bridge, where Summit Creek enters Donner Lake, personnel from Nevada County Environmental Health, Truckee Meadows Water Authority, California Department of Fish and Game, California State Parks and the Town of Truckee lowered two absorbent booms into place to stop the fuel.
Contractors brought in a and#8220;skimmerand#8221; that sucks fuel off the surface of the water later in the afternoon, adding more booms and absorbent both at the mouth of Summit Creek and in other areas upstream including in Frog Creek.
Donner Lake eventually drains into Donner Creek, which connects with the Truckee River, hence Truckee Meadows Water Authorities presence, Hauck said, but just how it will affect Reno-area users is still unknown.
After environmental agencies worked intensely on Wednesday to prevent the diesel slurry from spreading farther into Donner Lake, efforts are under way to develop a long-term recovery plan.
Thomas said possible clean-up measures and#8212; in addition to the absorbent booms already in place and#8212; could include an artificial dam or use of an oil vacuum, a mechanical device used to collect oil off the water surface.
Retallack said the department cannot estimate how long it will take for crews to clean up the spill.
and#8220;The reason why,and#8221; Retallack said, and#8220;is because itand#8217;s clear diesel and itand#8217;s hard to identify its location.and#8221;
She said the department has sent Janna Rinderneck, one of its environmental scientists, to access the situation and define a perimeter for the spill both on land and within the lake and creek. Once Rinderneck accomplishes this, Retallack said the department will be able to estimate resources needed and what timeline will be required.
Right now, 25 to 30 people are working in the field, and they are hampered a bit by the recent snow, Retallack said Thursday.
and#8220;Theyand#8217;re working fast and furious,and#8221; Retallack said. and#8220;But they havenand#8217;t assessed the soil because the soil is under 8 inches of snow.and#8221;
While water contamination is a major concern for the department, soil extraction will take the longest over the coming weeks as all contaminated soil must be excavated, Retallack said.
CHP Officer Tony Prisco said the highway patrol will start pulling up drainage pipes along I-80 near the spill to determine if any fuel got into the hillside.
Financially, Retallack said the trucking company will be responsible for all clean-up costs, according to a statewide mandate that each truck or mobile transfer unit is required to carry a signed certificate of financial responsibility stating they are responsible for all spill-related accidents.
and#8220;The taxpayers of California will not be paying for this clean-up,and#8221; Retallack said.
Chris Nunez, a manager at Mountain Valley Petroleum, of Sacramento, the company that owns the rig, said its insurance company will assess the cause of the crash. Nunez said he is unsure of potential financial repercussions as this type of incident has never happened to him before, he said. No actions have been taken regarding Anderson, he said, pending results of the investigation.
CHP Officer Tony Prisco said Anderson will be cited most likely for unsafe speed and for prevailing conditions, both minor infractions.