Reno sues Truckee sanitation agency
In an effort to protect Pyramid Lake and the Truckee River, the City of Reno, the City of Sparks and the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe have filed suit to halt approval of $42 million in expansion plans for the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency’s water reclamation plant, an action that could stall future growth for the entire North Shore.
The suit, filed Jan. 19 in Nevada County Superior Court, alleges the sanitation agency and the board of directors failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act by approving an environmental impact report despite unresolved impacts on the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake.
Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency officials, however, say they have complied with California water quality standards, and that any deterioration in water quality occurs after the water crosses the state line into Nevada.
Utility officials and area planners say the water reclamation expansion plan is critical to the economic future of the region.
With the number of major developments taking place in Truckee, Martis Valley and Olympic Valley, delaying plant expansion and suspending new sewer permits could bring developments across North Lake Tahoe to a standstill.
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.
The reclamation plant reached 80 percent of its capacity two years ago, according to Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency General Manager Craig Woods.
Woods then approached the board of directors with the possibility of engaging in an expansion study, which the board approved. The study, which took two to three years to complete and cost approximately $1 million, was approved by the board Dec. 19, 2000.
“Reno, Sparks and the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe on the last day of the last hour opposed the environmental documents we submitted for the plant expansion,” said Woods. He added that the agency has always prided itself on superb water quality standards. “We have never had a significant water quality violation.”
Woods said the lawsuit raises three primary concerns: limited water allocations, a possible $15 million financial impact on existing customers and the financial impact on new developments in the North Tahoe region.
“The state of California has negotiated water allocations through the Truckee River Operating Agreement. Now we may not receive those allocations,” he said. “It appears the downstream water interests are attempting to prevent California’s use of this water supply, and – and this is my opinion – that other interests were not negotiated in good faith.”
Woods said that the cities of Reno and Sparks and the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe want the existing technology at the reclamation plant to be replaced with technology that could cost up to $15 million, bringing the total project cost to $57 million.
Currently, the cost for a sewer permit from the sanitation agency is approximately $4,000, but that could rise with these new costs.
“If downstream interests are successful, that cost would increase significantly,” Woods said.
Reno, Sparks and the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe filed to void the certification of the environmental impact report, void the sanitation agency’s approval of the project and direct them to prepare a legally adequate report before any contractual work can begin.
The plaintiffs allege degradation of water quality and water habitats in both the river and the lake were not addressed, further endangering the Cui-ui and Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. They also allege the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency violates water quality standards in California and Nevada.
“The project would dramatically increase pollutant loadings to the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake, which are regional and national water bodies of extreme importance for both water supply, recreation and the maintenance of significant biological resources,” wrote the plaintiffs in their challenge submitted to the court.
“Generally speaking (the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency) has had a very good record complying with their effluent limitations,” said Scott Ferguson, senior water resource control engineer for Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. “The river did exceed the water quality standards … for a brief period in the late ’90s,” he said, “but I don’t think (the sanitation agency) is solely responsible for that.”
Ferguson said the statistical methods for measuring water quality standards in California are not the same as the methods used in Nevada.
“Theoretically (the sanitation agency) could be compliant with California standards and out of compliance in Nevada,” he said.
Ferguson said differences in the statistical methods is an issue the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board will need to handle, but it will be independent of the lawsuit.
“Basically you have three government agencies placing standards on the Truckee River,” he said, referring to California, Nevada and the Paiute tribe.
No dates have been set for legal proceedings, but the sanitation agency estimates the expansion project will take two years to complete, and hopes to have the expansion on-line by 2004, when some of the larger developers in the Tahoe-Truckee area will be forced to seek permits or abandon plans.
“There are sewer permits still available,” Woods said, “but there is not enough for the various known projects which are out there.”.”
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