Reno lawsuit over Truckee sewer expansion settled
A lawsuit filed by the cities of Reno and Sparks and the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe against the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency that threatened to derail development throughout the entire Truckee/North Lake Tahoe area has been settled, the parties involved in the suit announced Monday.
The lawsuit alleged the sanitation agency failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act by approving an environmental impact report for a planned water reclamation plant expansion despite unresolved impacts on the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake.
The existing reclamation plant is at more than 80 percent of its capacity, said Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency General Manager Craig Woods on Tuesday.
The water reclamation plant, which serves five North Shore sewer collection districts, including Truckee Sanitation District, North Tahoe Public Utility District and Tahoe City Public Utility District, treats up to 7.4 million gallons of wastewater per week.
Under the settlement terms, the plant expansion will now include more environmentally-friendly wastewater treatment facilities that will substantially reduce the flow of foreign materials into the Truckee River.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Woods said. “The environment is the biggest winner on this.”
Reno officials also expressed pleasure over the settlement.
“Maintaining high river quality is very important to everyone,” said Greg Dennis, sanitary engineer for the City of Reno, in a press release. “The water quality standards TTSA has committed to meet will benefit the river on both sides of the state line.”
With the number of major developments taking place in Truckee, Martis Valley and Olympic Valley, delaying plant expansion and suspending new sewer permits could have brought new development across North Lake Tahoe to a standstill.
But the new system agreed to in the settlement isn’t cheap — it may add more than $20 million to the final cost for the new water reclamation plant.
“We’re going from an ion exchange system, which is a chemically-based system, to a biological system that does not rely so much on salts (in the treatment process),” Woods said. “Everything is related to the elimination of salts in the Truckee River.”
The process, known as biological nitrogen removal, will reduce the discharge of salts into the river by 22 percent. Nitrogen loads will be reduced by 34 percent and chloride loads by 30 percent.
Over a 30-year period, the agreed-to limitations will prevent as much as 26 million pounds of salt from making its way through the river to Pyramid Lake.
“That was something that the litigants were pushing us toward and the State of California came through with funding options,” Woods said.
The settlement came just more than a year after the suit had been filed in Nevada County Superior Court.
The revised plan will add millions to the plant price, which a year ago was proposed to be $42 million but in Monday’s announcement was described as now costing $59 million.
Currently, the cost for a sewer permit from the sanitation agency for a single-family home is approximately $4,000, but that could rise.
“We believe it will only be a slight increase,” Woods said. “Obviously, to protect the environment costs money, and so it comes at a pretty healthy price.”
TTSA will be seeking funds from the state Department of Water Resources to make up some of the difference.
A financial plan for the expansion should be complete in the next few months, Woods said.
The Truckee River and Pyramid Lake are also home to two fish species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the endangered cui-ui and the threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. One of the main concerns of the Paiute Tribe was the effect the TTSA’s expansion could have on those fish.
“For more than a century, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe has worked to promote the preservation and recovery of the cu-ui and Lahontan cutthroat trout,” said Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Chairman Alan Mandell in a statement. “By ensuring that tens of millions of pounds of salts and other pollutants will not enter Pyramid Lake, this settlement furthers those efforts and helps preserve a key element of the tribe’s culture and livelihood.”
Woods said that the year-long negotiations to achieve a settlement between TTSA and the litigants were achieved with the help of several state officials.
“Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City) and Gov. Gray Davis’ office need to be thanked for their efforts,” Woods said. “I’m sure (we settled) quicker than we might have thanks to their help.”
Originally, it was announced that the new water treatment facilities might be complete by 2004; now, that timeline has been likely pushed back to 2005, Woods said.
“We were moving forward (over the past year) but at a slower rate,” he said. “Now we will continue on the design of the treatment plant and seek additional funds for it.”
The settlement resolves concerns of the Nevada parties over TTSA’s plans to expand its wastewater treatment plant at Truckee. As part of its $59 million dollar expansion project, TTSA has committed to construct enhanced wastewater treatment facilities that will substantially reduce loadings of various constituents to the Truckee River.
The settlement also removes TTSA’s concerns regarding the implementation of the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) among California, Nevada, the United States, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and others.
TTSA had expressed concern that TROA could adversely affect its operations by reducing Truckee River flows at certain times.
Government, business and environmental interests in California and Nevada have worked for more than a decade to negotiate TROA, which must be signed before interstate allocations of the Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Carson River basins approved by Congress become effective.