Waiting for the thaw | SierraSun.com

Waiting for the thaw

Jamie Bate and Renee Shadforth
Sierra Sun
Photo by Paul Raymore/Sierra SunA Universial Environmental employee cleans emulsified fuel out of the upper reaches of Summit Creek on Tuesday. The company was hired by Kinder Morgan, the owner of the pipeline that broke on Donner Summit last month and leaked an undetermined amount of fuel into the Donner Summit snowpack.
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It will take feet upon feet of snow to melt on Donner Summit before state officials will be able to determine damage done by a fuel pipeline leak last month.

The cleanup effort of the summit pipeline break continues, with crews from Universal Environmental ” the company hired by pipeline owner Kinder Morgan ” vacuuming emulsified fuel product and testing Summit Creek’s waters daily, according to agencies overseeing the spill.

“It’s still being monitored by us. We’re just waiting patiently for the snow to thaw,” said Rob Hughes, of the California Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

It is still unclear how much and what type of fuel leaked from the 8-inch pipeline that carries unleaded gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the Bay Area to Northern Nevada, said Tammy Lundquist, engineering geologist with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The fuel leak, which was reported by a skier on April 1 and repaired four days later, has seeped with the snowmelt into the upper reaches of Summit Creek, a tributary of Donner Lake. No fuel product has been detected in Donner Lake so far, Lundquist said.

Hughes said a “bubble” of petroleum product was reported in the lake recently, but wardens were unable to be confirm if it was from the spill or a faulty outboard motor.

As for the fuel in the summit snowpack ” be it unleaded gas, diesel or jet fuel ” Hughes said it will be diluted and evaporate rapidly, but the full extent of damage is unknown.

Meanwhile, a laboratory in Menlo Park is examining the damaged section of pipe to determine why it broke. The tests are taking longer than expected, Lundquist said.

It could take several more weeks until results from the test are available. Officials hope to be able to estimate how much fuel leaked out of the pipe by calculating its volume and flows at the time of the break.

When the snow melts this summer, a fish biologist will assess the stream, and a botanist is scheduled to evaluate the native vegetation around the spill area in July, said Carol Oz, a Fish and Game spokeswoman.

“We don’t really know if there is any damage, or what we will find,” Oz said. “If environmental damages are found, that becomes part of the warden’s investigation [of the spill].”