In the coming months, the CTMRD will complete its round of presentations at citizen and neighborhood advisory boards meant to inform the community that the contaminant boundary could change if the Washoe County Commissioners approve it before the start of the 2011-12 fiscal year in July. The change could affect remediation fees for residents within the service boundary, which covers a large portion of Washoe County, including Sparks and Spanish Springs.
“The boundary is reviewed every year,” said Chris Benedict, program director for CTMRD.
Benedict explained that the remediation district was created in 1995 by state law in order for northern Nevada communities to meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1987 that require removal of PCE from drinking water. PCE is also known as tetrachloroethylene, perc or perchloroethylene.
According to the CTMRD’s 2011 proposed changes brochure, the department’s job is to ensure drinking water meets PCE standards, provides liability relief for property owners and prevents the central Truckee Meadows from becoming a federal clean-up site.
“PCE has been around since the ‘30s,” Benedict said. “The peak use was in the ‘70s and ‘80s and it is still used today.
“The EPA wasn’t created until 1971, so there wasn’t drinking water standards until then,” Benedict added. “Then, PCE wasn’t recognized as a problem until the ‘80s.”
According to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, “PCE is a synthetic chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal-degreasing operations. PCE has relatively low solubility in water and has medium-to-high mobility in soil. It tends to volatilize (evaporate) from surface environments; however, it may persist in subsurface soil and groundwater for months or years, depending on subsurface conditions.”
“PCE is a fairly interesting compound,” Benedict said. “When it gets out into the air, it can evaporate. But in water it sinks. PCE is 1.6 times the density of water, so it sinks.”
According to the agency’s website, www.epa.gov, the “EPA regulates tetrachloroethylene in drinking water to protect public health.
“Tetrachloroethylene may cause health problems if present in public or private water supplies in amounts greater than the drinking water standard set by EPA.
“Some people who drink water containing tetrachloroethylene well in excess of the maximum contaminant level for many years could have problems with their liver and may have an increased risk of getting cancer,” the EPA states.
“The reason it has persisted so long is because it can break down in the environment,” Benedict said, “but these conditions do not exist in the Truckee Meadows. People who continue to use PCE don’t always dispose of it properly.”
Benedict explained that cooler water temperatures and a resulting lack of organic matter don’t always allow PCE to break down easily in northern Nevada’s wells, causing the chemical to bleed into the drinking water supply. He said swamp-like conditions work better, but because the aquifer system in the Truckee Meadows is oxygenated and cool it cannot breakdown PCE.
As part of the boundary review, Benedict said there are two components that are reviewed: the service boundary and the contaminant boundary. The service area includes a large portion of Washoe County and the contaminant boundary includes areas affected by wells that contain larger quantities of PCE.
“People within the service boundary pay a fee for safe drinking water,” Benedict said, adding residents within the contaminant boundary pay a higher fee in order to be covered for legal damage to wells with higher chemical content.
“The intent of liability relief, in environmental law, if you’re a property owner and your property is determined to be a problem, it is your responsibility to clean it up,” Benedict said. “There are still some folks in Reno and Sparks that are on domestic wells, but they don’t pay a remediation fee … they don’t receive liability coverage. The fee is assigned based on water usage.”
“There are more than 30 municipal water supply wells in the central Truckee Meadows,” Benedict continued. “If the PCE problem wasn’t being dealt with, then there would be PCE in the drinking water.”
Though a large portion of Washoe County residents’ water supply comes from the Truckee River, Benedict noted that earthquakes in 2008 damaged an aquifer in Verdi, which stopped drinking water flow into parts of Reno-Sparks.
“The majority of water use comes from the Truckee River but can’t always meet demand,” Benedict said, adding droughts can cripple the river’s drinking water supply. “Groundwater is 20 to 30 percent of the annual water supply. For short periods of time, it can be 100 percent of the water supply.”
Benedict said if the current contamination boundary is revised, 527 parcels will be added and 5,045 will be removed from across Reno-Sparks.
“That is a change in the contaminant boundary of 16 square miles to 9 1/2 square miles,” Benedict said.
Of the 527 parcels that could be added, 508 are in Sparks while 2,175 will be removed. The added parcels are in the area of the Sparks Marina and the El Rancho well.
Residential parcels within the contaminant boundary could pay $27.65 a year and commercial parcels could pay $226.74. In 2009, the fees were $24.68 and $220.93, respectively.
“One of the reasons we have this problem is because people conducted their business without being mindful of their actions,” Benedict said of how PCE ended up in the groundwater supply. “How they make use of it and dispose of it is really important.”
PCE is still widely used, Benedict said, especially in automotive products. He added that many car parts stores will recycle and dispose containers and products that could contain PCE.
“If you dump it on the ground, it’s going to end up in the water we drink,” Benedict warned. “Be smart about what you use and how you dispose of it. It is part of being a good citizen.”
For more information, visit www.washoecounty.us/water/ctmrd.htm.