Answers To Common Questions about PCE and your Drinking Water

PCE or perchloroethylene is an organic man-made chemical, which has been a popular solvent for dry cleaning and other purposes. Hundreds of businesses in the central Reno area including dry cleaners, paint stores and auto repair shops have used PCE. While most of these businesses are now gone, the solvent made its way through soil and into the groundwater aquifer as a result of improper disposal of solvent waste.

Nevada State law determines that fees must be paid for remediation whenever state or local officials certify an area is polluted. Washoe County charges a fee (charged on property tax bills) to pay for remediation of this type of contamination including purifying drinking water. Health officials determined in 1995 that the soil and groundwater in certain areas of the Truckee Meadows had been contaminated and needed to be cleaned up to ensure protection of public health.

More than 85% of our drinking water is surface water that comes directly from the Truckee River, and is not affected by PCE. To protect the ground water from further and future contamination, the action taken by Washoe County helps to isolate and prevent the spread of the pollutant. This also helps to preserve the use of groundwater wells as a resource option, as our wells are critical in drought years.

Your drinking water is safe. Equipment on TMWA wells has been treating PCE to non-detectable levels since 1995. Approximately half of the cleanup funding has been used to pay for treatment equipment installed at five TMWA wells in central Reno to remove PCE. TMWA currently owns and operates more than 30 active production wells with a combined capacity of 63 million gallons per day. The fee is also used by the County to study the magnitude of the PCE contamination, and to determine a comprehensive cleanup plan. The draft remediation study is currently being reviewed and expected to be final in mid 2002.

The fee is not charged on water bills. It appears on your Washoe County property tax bill and is paid by all property owners receiving water from TMWA, as well as customers served by other utilities that buy water from TMWA. These include Washoe County customers in the Double Diamond and Spanish Springs areas and Sun Valley General Improvement Districts.

Washoe County developed the fee based on the annual water bill associated with water use on each property. It is included on some Washoe County property tax bills (see above). This fee can be changed by vote of the Washoe County Commission and may increase or decrease over time depending upon the remediation projects and the taxpayer who benefits from specific projects. For specific rate structure, please contact Washoe County.

Because the contamination has already occurred, it may be impossible to determine who improperly disposed of chemicals. In addition, many of these parties have vanished and are no longer in business. Because the initial cleanup process includes removing PCE from well water, which is for consumptive use, the County determined that the fairest way to fund the initial cleanup is to charge those water customers who benefit.

The PCE Remediation District was created by Washoe County in accordance with State Law. State law (Nevada Revised Statute 540A) directs that the fee be placed on the property tax bill and collected in the same fashion as property taxes. Washoe County is responsible for administering such districts, which will address much broader issues in addition to cleanup of the drinking water. Funding this work through County financing methods also helps keep costs low.

All water distributed to TMWA customers meets and exceeds federal and state requirements for water quality. TMWA’s five wells that did not meet federal standards were taken off line and were returned to operation only after equipment was installed to remove PCE and the drinking water was determined to be safe.