U.S. Water News Online
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. -- Chevron Corp. will pay South
Lake Tahoe's water provider $10 million to settle a lawsuit over a
gasoline additive that has contaminated public wells.
Chevron was among 31 oil refiners, fuel distributors, and gas
stations sued three years ago by the South Tahoe Public Utility
District over the additive MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether.
The district claims MTBE groundwater contamination has rendered 12
of its 34 drinking water wells unusable.
Twenty-five of the original 31 defendants, including Exxon Corp.,
have now settled with the district. Exxon will pay $12 million.
A trial against the other defendants, including ARCO, Shell Oil
and Tosco Corp., is set to begin this week.
The total money the district will receive from the settlements is
more than $31 million, said Bob Baer, general manager of the utility.
``While this (Chevron) settlement is significant, our engineering
consultants have determined damages to our system will cost tens of
millions more and decades to fix,'' Baer said.
``This moves us closer to that point, but we still have a long way
With the settlement, Chevron admits no liability for the
district's MTBE problems, said Chevron spokesman Ed Spaulding.
``The reason why Chevron settled is to avoid being involved with
what promises to be a really difficult and long trial ... that could
be quite expensive,'' Spaulding said.
The trial is expected to last up to six to nine months. Jury
selection begins Monday.
District spokesman Dennis Cocking said utility officials are
optimistic about the trial after the Chevron and Exxon settlements.
``All along we've looked forward to our day in court,'' Cocking
said. ``We've been encouraged by the settlements we've had. They only
strengthen our case.''
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
With its depleted water supply, the district struggled through the
summer to meet water demand, which more than triples in the busy Lake
Tahoe tourist season.
``Losing 25 percent of our (water) production, we walk a fine line
during the summer without going to mandatory restrictions,'' Cocking
MTBE is added to gasoline to make it burn more cleanly and reduce
air pollution. But the chemical, a suspected carcinogen, pollutes
groundwater far more readily than gasoline alone
MTBE has been blamed for contaminating countless sites around the
country, especially in California.
Officials have banned the sale of MTBE in South Lake Tahoe, and
Gov. Gray Davis has called for the additive's removal statewide by
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