MTBE found in Lake Casitas
by Lenny Roberts
According to a memo from Casitas Municipal Water District General
Manager John L. Johnson dated March 21, the board has known for
some time that MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, is present
in the lake, and has determined that the source of the problem
is the gasoline being used by motorboats.
Johnson recommends that the use of gasoline containing MTBE cease
by Nov. 1, and that a public relations program informing the
customers of the lake about the requirement and the need for
that requirement begin as soon as possible. The requirement,
Johnson added, should apply to the concessionaire and to all
boats being brought into the lake.
California Gov. Gray Davis had set Jan. 1, 2003 as the date when
MTBE would be taken out of the gasoline in California and replaced
with ethanol, but the ruling has been postponed to prevent retail
gasoline prices from soaring.
"If I could snap my fingers
and make MTBE go away tomorrow, I would. But we've seen this
movie before and I am not going to allow Californians to be held
hostage by another out-of-state energy cartel," Gov. Davis
said March 15.
"After two years of delay, California's request for a waiver
from the strict oxygenate requirement was denied by the federal
government. Senator Daschle, who I spoke to last night, has a
bill to fix the problem and it's heading in the right direction.
But there's a chance that it might not become law and so it is
my duty to take action to protect Californians from paying $3
per gallon at the pump. And that's exactly what I'm doing."
Under the newly announced timeline, the MTBE phaseout will be
accomplished no later than Dec. 31, 2003, according to the California
Energy Commission, and individual refineries may continue to
make the transition to ethanol earlier than December 2003 if
they determine it is feasible and will not risk supply shortages
or price spikes.
"The data from the district's water quality testing is indicating
that MTBE is being found not only in the raw water taken into
the water treatment plant, but also in the outflow from the treatment
plant that is being served to Casitas customers," Johnson
The level of MTBE is as high as 1.6 parts per billion for treatment
plant influent, or incoming flow of water, and 0.6 parts per
billion in the effluent, or outgoing flow, where the secondary
limit is 5 parts per billion.
"Based upon this information," johnson said, "it
would appear that Casitas needs to take action to deal with this
problem before we start having to worry about exceeding the secondary
The good news is that non-MBTE gasoline already exists and is
available in 8,000-gallon lots. The bad news is that storage
facilities for gasoline is currently limited to 1,500 gallons,
and costs 15 percent more per gallon. Of concern is usage at
the lake typically runs around 700 gallons per month, and gasoline
can go bad if stored too long.
Another suggestion is to eliminate two-cycle gasoline engines
that are below 10 horsepower as they put the most MTBE into the
water. Larger engines would be included if results still showed
a significant amount of MTBE in the lake.
"Casitas needs to develop an ordinance change which will
allow the district to control the type gasoline being used at
the lake, or the type of motors being used on the lake,"
CMWD President Jim Coultas said, "We want to stay on top
of this before it becomes a real problem. If Governor Davis had
not backed off and California had banned MTBE by Jan 1, 2003,
we would not have had a problem."
Coultas said the worst case scenario would be to allow only newer,
four-cycle engines on the lake and to ban the many two-cycle
engines, including those that power many of the rental and privately
owned older boats.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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