By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
A dump truck carrying a 100-gallon diesel tank Wednesday overturned into the headwaters of Woods Creek on Big Hill, spilling most of its contents, breaking a TUD water main, and challenging tow truck operators for five hours before they pulled it out.
The accident occurred at 2 p.m., when the road base of Rancho Castaneda Road gave out and sent a truck belonging to Stewart Hatler rolling into the creek, said Mike McGee, senior environmental health specialist for Tuolumne County. Tow trucks arrived about 6:45 p.m., but were unable to remove the truck until midnight.
Rancho Castaneda Road is about three miles up Big Hill Road. McGee said the wet weather could have played a part in the road's failure.
The driver of the truck has not yet stepped forward. Hatler estimated the tank held about 20 gallons of fuel when it entered the creek, McGee said, but no one is sure. When the tank was finally removed, about 5 gallons remained.
"So anywhere from 15 to 95 gallons" entered the water, McGee said.
Water from Woods Creek flows into Sonora Creek and finally ends up in Don Pedro reservoir, McGee said.
The tumbling truck also broke a water main pipe belonging to Tuolumne Utilities District's Big Hill water system, McGee said, shutting off many Big Hill residents' water. However, TUD fixed the break in enough time that those customers "could take their showers in the morning," McGee said.
Environmental consequences of the spill are not yet known, McGee said, as soil and water samples have not yet been analyzed.
However, he predicted the diesel will kill plant life in the area until water dilutes the fuel.