Maintenance: Sewage spill insurance policy | SierraSun.com

Maintenance: Sewage spill insurance policy

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun
Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunNorth Tahoe utility Public Works Director Lee Schegg inspects operations at the Secline sewage pumphouse recently. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the North Tahoe utility are assessing the integrity of the lakeside sewage line.
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It’s a recipe for disaster: Nine-hundred miles of sewer lines, often filled with human waste, snaking along the shore of Lake Tahoe in places and past North Tahoe’s drinking water supply.

One cracked pipe or construction mishap and pressurized sewage would spurt into the pristine waters of Lake Tahoe from many locations along the main stem of Tahoe’s extensive sewer system.

But a committee of agencies is finding that arriving at a fix is much more difficult than identifying the problem.

Early calculations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and eight public utility districts say all of the needed sewer line relocations could cost more than $88 million ” nearly half of that for North Tahoe’s sewer lines alone.

Soon, the Army Corps and others hope to pare down that list of problem sewer lines to only the most vulnerable , reducing the cost to a much more manageable number. But even then, the districts would need state and federal help to cover the costly projects.

“Everywhere in the country has the same problem that Lake Tahoe has, of old infrastructure starting to fall apart,” said Phillip Brozek, the Army Corps’ program manager for Lake Tahoe. “Not everywhere in the country has Lake Tahoe.”

For public utility districts that are already raising rates to cover operational costs, the idea of financing massive sewer line replacements for a system that often works without a hitch, is a hard sell.

“As long as the system operates, it operates as designed, it has little or no effect on the lake,” said Public Works Manager Lee Schegg of the North Tahoe Public Utility District.

The North Tahoe utility’s board of directors recently approved a series of rate and fee hikes to finance infrastructure improvements over the next five years. Included in the outlined projects are pump station upgrades, implementing a new monitoring system, and replacing or rehabilitating sewer mains.

Lake Tahoe’s internationally recognized clarity is one of the reasons the agencies are still searching for a solution.

“If you didn’t have Lake Tahoe at the bottom of the hill, there would be no reason to move the pipes,” Brozek said. “But, in fact, Lake Tahoe is at the bottom of the hill.”

But relocating sewer lines farther from the lake is much easier said than done.

“The trouble with replacing the whole system is it’s really not possible to do, without digging the whole thing up,” said spokesman Dennis Oliver of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “So it’s better to concentrate on keeping the system functioning properly.”