PUD, state at odds
July 30, 2004
A Truckee Donner Public Utility District water pipeline project that damaged a wetland area northwest of Donner Lake has the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board weighing enforcement measures against the district.The extent of the damage is a matter of disagreement between the state agency and the utility district. State officials said that the pipeline clearing went over one spring and that workers dumped debris in a pond at the other wetland location, in violation of protections set up for the area.District officials, however, said that workers only dumped tree debris near one wetland area, crushing some vegetation, and had no impact on the other spring. “We went through every environmental review process on the … property,” Ed Taylor of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, said.Scott Ferguson, of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Board, said his office was surprised when they heard that the district’s project was damaging wetlands.”It was news to us when we heard that surface water features were impacted by the pipeline project,” Ferguson said. He said the water board had been working on an exemption for the district so that it could go ahead with projects involving wetlands around Donner Lake, but the wetlands areas off of Donner Lake Road, northwest of the lake, were never specified in the application, Ferguson said.”What they did was violate one of our basin plan prohibitions,” Ferguson said.The utility district has removed some of the debris from the pond and put straw down on disturbed soil to minimize further impacts and rectify the problem, Ferguson said. Enforcement measures associated with the situation could range from verbal and written comments to a cleanup order or civil liability, he said. Taylor said that the pipeline project was designed last year to avoid all wetlands in an area that is steep and inhospitable to utility placement. The utility’s contractor, he said, “mostly followed the routing,” except that he was careless at one point and dropped tree debris near a pond area.”This pipeline routing was above that [the seep], but while he was cutting trees some of the brush and slash, if you will, he hit the wetlands,” Taylor said.The pipeline alignment, he said, went nowhere near the second spring.”This particular [route] was a total avoidance of the wetlands,” Taylor said. “We basically look at every possible direction that we can to avoid wetlands. We’re in total disagreement with any second [wetland] area.”The district tried to minimize any impact the tree debris had on the pond area as soon as they knew about it, said Taylor. He also denied that the district proceeded without proper environmental clearance on the property.The regional water quality board has formulated a report on the incident, but has set no date to determine enforcement measures against the district.