TEXAS--More on West Tawakoni, City Monitoring Shows Contamination Levels Dropping...

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Water worries ease in West Tawakoni

City is monitoring as contamination levels drop in lake

03/18/2000 By Brenda Rodriguez / The Dallas Morning News

WEST TAWAKONI, Texas - As he grilled hash browns Friday morning, Ron Allen said he doesn't think authorities would be "blowing smoke" about the severity of the contamination at Lake Tawakoni.

Andy Scott / DMN West Tawakoni city administrator Dick Gillespie says tankers have been supplying water since the gas spill. "I try to respect authority, but you know . . .," he said as he mixed a bowl of eggs in the kitchen of the Fillin Station restaurant. "They told us there wasn't any danger. . . . I believe they would let us know."

Mr. Allen, the Fillin Station's owner, says it has been business as usual.

The city shut down its water intake valves from Lake Tawakoni late Wednesday after authorities detected the gasoline additive MTBE - used to clean air - in the northwestern reach of the lake. The contamination stems from a half-million-gallon gasoline spill last week at a wheat field and the East Caddo Creek near the lake.

Thousands of gallons of water have been brought in tanker trucks and pumped into the city's water storage facility. Residents' taps have not run dry, but the situation remains a concern, officials said.

"I don't see us being without service," West Tawakoni Mayor Don Tanoos said. "We don't see any real harm to the situation. Don't get me wrong, we are monitoring around the clock."

The mayor said the city chose to shut its intake as a precaution. As of Friday afternoon, the city was using three trucks and expected to get more to make quicker turnarounds.

Everybody in the area is helping as much as they can," said Dick Gillespie, city administrator, adding that they are receiving water from Dallas, East Tawakoni and an area water corporation, Combined Consumers Water Supply. MTBE has been detected in the northwestern arm of the lake, near West Tawakoni's intake.

To keep residents informed, authorities had a town meeting Thursday, and letters were sent out asking people to conserve water. The letters said: " DESPITE THE MANY RUMORS GOING AROUND THE WATER IS SAFE TO DRINK & USE . . ."

Authorities have said that the MTBE level detected does not present a health threat but does cause a taste and odor problem.

A water tanker truck was parked at City Hall on Friday so the town's more than 1,000 residents could fill containers.

At the Fillin Station, Mr. Allen said that even though the situation seems to be under control, he is concerned about possible long-term effects.

"I don't think anyone knows the extent of the damage," he said after serving food to workers who pumped water all night at the nearby water-storage facility.

The Sabine River Authority, which owns and operates the lake, has said no permanent damage is expected at the lake, which provides water for more than 10 cities, towns and water companies, including Dallas.

Dallas, which gets 25 percent to 30 percent of its water from the lake, closed its intake shortly after the gas spill.

Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, said samples near West Tawakoni's intake Friday showed a drop to between 100 parts and 150 parts per billion of MTBE. Authorities were reporting 271 parts per billion in the same area Thursday.

He cautioned that the levels could go up again but that no more contamination had been detected at the lake.

The TNRCC wants Explorer Pipeline Co. of Tulsa, Okla., which owns the gasoline pipeline that broke and leaked, to use more aggressive water-treatment methods - such as carbon filtration or aeration - to speed up the removal of MTBE from East Caddo Creek. The commission wants at least 90 percent of the additive removed from the water in the creek, officials said.

Tom Ott moved to West Tawakoni about eight years ago, attracted by the lakefront property and nearby golf course. When he heard about the contamination, he decided not to take a chance and bought bottled water.

"I found out a long time ago that there is no use in worrying over things you can't control," Mr. Ott said.

But he said he gets "concerned when someone says it's all right to drink the water, but don't inhale the fumes."

He jokingly added: "I've warned them [residents] all not to smoke in the shower."

Mr. Ott said people are concerned, but no one is panicking.

"I am confident that eventually old Mother Nature will just wash it out," he said.

Grocery store owner Frank Slovacek agreed, saying that in about two weeks things would be back to normal. Mr. Slovacek said some residents have bought bottled water, but not many.

"The government's got it under control. . . . This is just one little episode that happened," Mr. Slovacek said.

Down the road on State Highway 276 at Oakley's restaurant, owner Margaret Oakley stocked up on bottled water in case customers requested it.

But, like most residents in this shore-side town, she said there was not much worry.

"People are just going along as always," she said, standing near the grill. "I trust the city's water supply."

Last year, a government advisory panel and the EPA recommended to Congress that the use of MTBE be reduced substantially because it dissolves easily in water and turns up in tap water when gasoline has leaked or spilled.

MTBE is used in so-called reformulated gasoline required by the EPA in all or parts of 16 states, including Texas. That accounts for about a third of the gasoline sold in the country.

In addition, the additive has been shown to cause cancer in animals, even though it is not clear to researchers whether those findings are applicable to people. It can be smelled at very low concentrations, and it makes water smell so bad that most will refuse to drink it.

That is one reason California last March ordered oil companies to phase out the additive by 2002. A University of California study showed that the additive has affected at least 10,000 ground-water sites throughout that state.


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 18, 2000

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