KINGS BEACH, Calif. - Environmental and regulatory officials were coordinating the cleanup of five Lake Tahoe beaches Wednesday after a contractor putting in a pier punctured a main sewer line.
Some officials estimated it could be a week or more before the cleanup is complete and the beaches are deemed safe. In the meantime, sheriff's deputies and the U.S. Coast Guard patrolled the area from the land and the lake to keep people away.
Raw sewage contaminated the beaches around Kings Beach on Tuesday and flowed for about five hours before officials with the North Tahoe Public Utility District were able to reroute flows from the 14-inch line, officials said.
A drinking water intake facility about one-half mile away from the spill was not affected and there was no threat to drinking water quality, KRNV-TV reported.
The line was repaired sometime after midnight Tuesday, said Lauri Kemper with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.
"There was a lot of sewage going to the beach," Kemper said Wednesday.
Kemper said the spill occurred when a contractor was installing a private pier for two homeowners.
"He was driving pilings into the ground when he hit the pipe," she said, adding that an investigation was being conducted and the contractor could face fines.
Officials were still trying to determine the size of the spill on Wednesday.
Besides beaches and Lake Tahoe, ponds near the lake's shore formed by high groundwater levels also were contaminated, officials said.
After the spill, utility officials ordered the closure of Kings Beach State Recreation Area, Coon Street Boat Launch, North Tahoe Beach Center, Secline Beach and the public beach behind Steamers Beach Side Bar and Oven.
Private beaches between the public beaches also were closed. All the closed areas are located off State Highway 28.
The closures did not affect beaches to the west at Tahoe City - including Commons Beach and Skylandia Park and Beach - or to the southeast in Nevada at Incline Village and Sand Harbor.
Steve Rogers, the utility district's general manager, said the experts will be taking water quality samples to ensure the water is safe.
"Our immediate concern is the safety of our public," Rogers said Tuesday evening.
"People who have been in the water at these beaches should wash thoroughly. Those with immune system problems may want to consult a medical professional or Placer County Health and Human Services," he said.
On the Net:
North Tahoe Public Utility District: www.ntpud.org.
North Lake Tahoe Resort Association: www.PureTahoeNorth.com.