OAKLAND, CA - Anglers, divers and other residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin have reason to celebrate.
Under a settlement agreement finalized on November 4 in federal court in Sacramento, AT&T’s PacBell subsidiary will remove eight miles of decrepit telephone cable from Lake Tahoe, where it has been leaching toxic lead into the iconic lake’s water for decades. The cable contains 63 tons of lead.
“Local divers discovered the abandoned cables years ago while removing other trash from the lake bottom,” according to a press release from the non-profit Below the Blue and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). “The settlement took place after the CSPA brought suit under federal law and California’s Proposition 65. “
“We submerged a three-foot length of the cable in a plastic tub full of Lake Tahoe water,” said attorney Bill Verick. “After one day, the test results showed 600 micrograms of lead per liter in the water. After three more days, it was up to 1200 micrograms per liter.”
A concentration of quarter microgram per liter would be enough to require consumer warnings, and discharging that concentration into a California source of drinking water is legally forbidden, according to the groups.
The groups said PacBell switched to fiber optic phone cables over 30 years ago and “simply abandoned in place on the lake’s bottom the old cables that used a heavy lead sheath to shield copper transmission wires.”
The cables’ sheathing has been leaching lead into Lake Tahoe ever since. The cables contain approximately 3 pounds of lead per foot, and extend for 8 miles along the western shore of Lake Tahoe from Baldwin Beach to Rubicon Bay, including across the mouth of Emerald Bay, according to the groups.
“Lake Tahoe is one of California’s iconic waterways. We’re proud to help get this toxic garbage out of the Lake,” said CSPA executive director Bill Jennings.
“As professional divers, we’re all too familiar with the volume of dumping that goes on in Lake Tahoe, but even we were shocked when we came upon these cables and saw how old they looked, and how far they stretched across the Lake,” said Monique Rydel Fortner.
She and her dive partner Seth Jones have performed numerous scientific dives in Lake Tahoe for clients and for the non-profit Below the Blue to remove foreign debris and investigate pollution problems. Jones praised the Lake Tahoe community for their support and getting involved in the cause. He also thanked AT&T for formally committing to the removal of the cables.
CSPA’s lawyers combined federal law with California’s voter-approved Proposition 65 that covers discharges of toxic chemicals into sources of drinking water, including Lake Tahoe.
“Most businesses think Proposition 65 requires only warnings about toxic chemicals, but it has strong extra teeth to protect the waters that we drink from,” said David Roe, author of the 1986 ballot proposition. “Local agencies with responsibilities to protect those waters would do well to study this innovative legal approach. So could any citizen, since any citizen can bring a Proposition 65 enforcement case.”