Located near Lake Tahoe and one of the West’s most iconic and heavily used ski resorts, Squaw Valley recently responded to concerns about its water quality. As with all public drinking water systems, the Squaw Valley resort is regularly tested for the presence of bacteria. Testing of water systems in the “upper mountain” section of the resort indicated the presence of both coliform bacteria and E. Coli. As is required by law, both the public and the Placer County Department of Environmental Health were notified of this finding. No health or safety issues were reported as a result of the testing findings.
The Department of Environmental Health on Facebook indicated that the affected section of the resort could remain open to the public provided that sufficient warnings were posted and that the resort provided an alternative potable water source. In addition to posted warnings, Squaw Valley provided guests with bottled water and pre-packaged snacks as they investigated the water issue. Restaurants in this section of the resort were temporarily closed.
Coliform bacteria and E. coli are two common forms of bacteria that are often found in public swimming and drinking water systems, especially after heavy precipitation events that can expose these systems to agricultural waste or sewage. Exposure to these bacteria generally doesn’t cause serious health issues, though the very young or those with compromised immune systems should avoid it. The resort removed and replaced part of the affected well systems in August of 2016. This meant removing, relocating, and reburying well piping. Following this, the area received precipitation events resulting in almost ten inches of rainfall.
Investigation by both Squaw Valley Resort and the Placer County Department of Environmental Health led to the conclusion that the presence of the bacteria was almost certainly caused by the heavy precipitation. The well plumbing alterations are not considered to have had any affect on bacteria levels reported there. Immediately after notification of elevated bacteria levels at upper mountain well sites the resort began treating the wells by flushing out systems, a two step process involving the use of chemicals. As a result of this treatment and recent testing, the Department of Environmental Health recently reported that these particular well systems are no longer indicating the presence of E. Coli, and coliform levels are much reduced.
In an official statement addressing this matter, Squaw Valley Resort officials acknowledged that they were in the process of addressing a contaminated water issue in an area of their resort. They indicated that the area was open with caveats and that the resort would continue treating the water until the issue was fully resolved, and thanked both Placer County and Squaw Valley agencies for their assistance in the matter.
Department of Environmental Health officials indicated that daily testing of the affected wells would continue until bacteria levels fell off. It is expected that three of the four affected wells will reopen soon, and that approaching “true winter” weather will help to eliminate persistent bacteria at the fourth well.