Lukins’ wells contaminated, using STPUD water


By Kathryn Reed

Most of the water Lukins Brothers Water Company customers are using is coming from South Tahoe Public Utility District.

This is because two of the three active wells the South Lake Tahoe private water company operates are contaminated with Tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE. The wells show 16 parts per billion and 43 parts per billion. The maximum contaminant level is 5 parts per billion.

The state Division of Drinking Water mandates regular testing of water for a variety of potential contaminants. The day it came back high the state was notified, the wells were shut down and the intertie with STPUD was opened. This was July 11. However, it was not until Sept. 30 that the state told Lukins to let its customers know what is going on. Legally, the water company could not disclose the information until being told to do so by the state.

Jen Lukins, who runs the water company, said there was no threat to customers because three months ago when the water came back with a high PCE reading the company took steps to ensure other water was coming out of taps.

“Everyone is receiving safe, potable drinking water that meets all drinking water standards,” Lukins told Lake Tahoe News. “Those wells will be shut down until a treatment is found or Lukins drills a new well. An engineering firm is trying to determine what the best solution is for Lukins. Then we’ll work with the state to get the funding.”

Two private wells near the Y off Highway 89 are also contaminated with PCE.

“One challenge is we don’t have some obvious source,” Lauri Kemper with Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board told Lake Tahoe News.

Cleanup cannot take place until the location is identified. Once that is done the property owners will be tasked with cleaning it up.

Lahontan applied for a $69,000 grant from the state’s cleanup and abatement account. Sometime this fall a series of hydropunches will be performed to determine the location of the contaminant. The drilling equipment punches holes in the soil, takes samples and tries to pinpoint where the PCE is originating.

Then the groundwater, soil or both will be treated.

Kemper said most likely this PCE outbreak is not from the Laundromat at the Y. There is still an open case involving that facility from when it had a self-serve dry cleaning machine that leaked in the 1970s. A similar machine was at the site of what is about to be BevMo, but that case was closed.

Kemper said the drought could be contributing to why PCE is making itself known because of how wells draw water.

“We hope we find the source of the contaminant fast before more of the aquifer becomes contaminated,” Lukins said.

In other water contamination news:

• Lahontan officials continue to monitor what Tahoe Tom’s gas station is doing regarding cleaning up MTBE leaking from its site into the ground water and contaminating the water at Mark Twain Hotel. The station is supposed to be paying for the bottled water being used by the South Lake Tahoe hotel, but it isn’t. Kemper said the station is racking up penalties. The water board will be meeting with station owners at the end of the month.


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Comments (11)
  1. Lou pierini says - Posted: October 10, 2014

    Same story different reason. Did they pay a connection charge for that water availability?

  2. Lou pierini says - Posted: October 10, 2014

    STPUD board candidates could comment on this.

  3. Steve says - Posted: October 10, 2014

    The question begs, how often are the wells tested, and how much time elapsed prior to the routine testing that revealed contamination and the switch was made, during which people drank and consumed the contaminated water?

    It is my understanding that the water companies have a reciprocal “mutual aid” agreement whereby one is prepared to help supply water to the other in the event of a problem such as this. When the Keys needed water from STPUD a couple years ago, STPUD charged full “retail” rates for water so provided through the intertie.

  4. Lou pierini says - Posted: October 10, 2014

    The mutual agreement applies for emergency, fires ect. not to run your regular business. They haven’t drilled a,new well in years. The connection exist because they didn’t have enough pressure in there lines to put out a fire. But tney never paid for that connection.

  5. cosa pescado says - Posted: October 10, 2014

    Good thing we have regulations. Too bad the people who are responsible for the contamination are not on the hook financially.

  6. dumbfounded says - Posted: October 10, 2014

    So, are smaller water companies, like Lukins, exempt from installing water meters? It will be interesting to see how this actually shakes out. Cosa is absolutely right, where is the accountability? Will STUPD customers actually be paying for the privilege of supplying water to the exempted small companies?

  7. David DeWitt says - Posted: October 11, 2014

    A meter was installed on my property this summer and I am supplied water from Lukins.

  8. Lou pierini says - Posted: October 11, 2014

    In today tribune they want a 60% rate increase. The system is way under water, no value at all. They make STPUD look like the best water puyevour ever.

  9. go figure says - Posted: October 11, 2014

    There is some sort of instilation schedule that Lukins is following to install meters to their water customers. I tried to get new insurance quotes for my homeowners insurance, which is required if you have a home loan. We talked to three different insurance agencies that said we couldnt get insurance through them because there are no nearby fire hydrants. Fortunatly we already have insurance but we want to consolidate. Lukins said that our neighborhood isnt going to be upgraded until the end of their upgrade program. That could be another 3 years. That sucks for us. We also have paid three increases in the last 2 years. Our water bill has more than doubled and now they want a 53% increase starting in 2015. Maybe its time for STPUD to take over this failing system.

  10. Duane says - Posted: October 11, 2014

    I commented on the other story about the rate increase and said that I am against STPUD talking over Lukins because for STPUD and the requirements they have for serving water it would run about #18 million to bring it up to standards. It is still in the millions for Lukins to do the repairs needed but not even close to what STPUD estimates they would have to have. Why would the STPUD customers want that liability? What worries me as I just read about this tonight is that the PCE pollution will take months to find a source if they ever do. Even if Lahontan finds a source like Tahoe Tom’s has been at state line they either go out of business or use legal tricks like Tahoe Tom’s has to avoid the responsibility. And if the usual pump and treat method is used to clean up the pollution it could take years to finish that job. It is a very slow process. I’ve studied the Lukins issue a lot in the past. The worst scenario was either a fire because they had until this new line recently almost no fire suppression capabilities or the other problem would be pollution. So I see them coming for long term help from STPUD. A hookup fee will come up. Since they are broke a payment or something incremental might have to happen but must be paid because the District can’t gift public funds. I say that may be a solution because the state can force a municipal District to take over a struggling private company. I would rather STPUD supply water at a fair cost for all concerned including STPUD than have to take over a private company deep in repairs and future debt coupled with pollution. So if supplying water at a cost is a partial solution, that beats a takeover or buyout at this point. The homeowners there don’t deserve to be punished for a drift of pollution from a past laundry, or mechanics garage. And then there is the MTBE plume that may also be drawn in to the wells due to the drought type conditions. Those are my initial thoughts. I’m going to work on finding out if those are still the options available or if there is a better creative solution. Of course any long term use of STPUD water would have to be paid for as well as a hookup fee. Any other ideas out there? I’m sure that STPUD will be addressing their options and meeting with Jennifer Lukins to seek solutions. Jen is a good person and is intelligent. This will take some real coordination to solve.

  11. Lou pierini says - Posted: October 13, 2014

    Lukins has done everything on the cheap for years now they want grants, free water service you name it, anything that doesn’t come out of their pocket.