Pipeline clean up continues on Donner Summit
Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline crews are still cleaning up a jet fuel, diesel and gasoline mixture that leaked from a fuel line along Summit Creek about three miles west of Donner Lake.
California Department of Fish and Game spokesperson Alexia Retallack said soil and water samples from the spill area are taken twice daily and results are being assessed by the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health, the state Department of Health Services, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, Donner Lake Water Co. and DFG.
Jerry Engelhardt, of SFPP, said soil is removed, placed in bins and tested and categorized according to state environmental regulations before being transported to disposal sites.
In addition, Retallack said several underflow dams – monitored 24-hours a day – are set up along Summit Creek between the spill site and Donner Lake. These dams create a still water condition allowing the petroleum product to separate from water, float to the surface and be removed, she said.
“Special engineering allows water far below the surface to move through the dams without taking petroleum with it,” Retallack said, adding additional oil removal equipment and processes are in place along the creek and a historical snowmelt analysis is being used to enhance planning.
Although unconfirmed as of press time, Retallack said preliminary investigations are consistent with a rock hitting the pipeline, denting the pipe and damaging the outside protective coating. “The cause is still under investigation, however,” she said.
Retallack said DFG officials are continuing to monitor wildlife in the spill area and sample creek waters for detrimental effects on the microscopic water creatures fish consume. DFG discovered a few fish behind the underflow dams, which were relocated to Donner Lake, she added.
As springtime temperatures continue in the Donner Summit area, snowmelt coupled with warm air settling over Donner Lake in the evening is creating a faint fuel odor on the west end of the lake, Retallack said. The smell, however, poses more of a nuisance than a health threat, she added.
Also, precautionary measures have been implemented, including a stepped-up air sampling program and a resident notification program, in case officials determine a health risk exists, Engelhardt said.
Donner Lake water sampling is also continuing and results confirm no petroleum has made it down the summit, Retallack said.
Investigators have yet to confirm the amount of fuel spilled, Retallack said. Analysis did confirm, however, the majority of the substance was gasoline and diesel fuel, she added.
Retallack said a small storm system moved through the spill area Sunday, March 16, but work would be suspended only when conditions become too dangerous for clean-up crews.
“Cleaning the site is going to be a long-term thing, probably lasting through the summer,” Retallack said, adding traffic controls will remain in effect – mainly on weekends – on a two-mile section of Old Highway 40 east of Rainbow Bridge.
Cross country skiers alerted local, state and federal agencies of a gas odor atop Donner Summit March 1. Since that time, three agencies and more than 30 people have been working around the clock battling 12-foot snowdrifts, steep terrain high winds to contain the spill, Retallack said.
SFPP is the largest common carrier products pipeline system in the western U.S. with 3,000 miles of pipeline and 14 terminals. The Donner Summit pipeline – connecting refineries in the Bay Area to Nevada – runs south of Donner Lake, crosses Interstate 80 at Highway 89 and continues north of I-80 through Prosser Lake and over the mountains into Verdi and Reno.
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