LAKE TAHOE — Boaters will need to open their wallets a little bit wider before launching at Lake Tahoe this summer.The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board approved fee increases for mandatory aquatic invasive species inspections Wednesday.The average boater will pay an additional $10 or $11 for a year of boating on Lake Tahoe under the new rate structure, said Dennis Zabaglo, TRPA’s watercraft program manager.“Any increase can be perceived as a negative, but we feel it’s minimal,” Zabaglo told the board Wednesday.The fee for a sticker allowing vessels to only launch at Lake Tahoe for a year will stay the same at $30.The fees will be in effect for 2012. They will be reviewed at the end of the year for the 2013 season. Boaters with a 2011 sticker will be able to launch at Lake Tahoe until April 30.
During the 2011 boating season, inspectors checked 7,600 vessels and performed 4,800 decontaminations. The rate of decontaminations — 63 percent — is a “logistical challenge and something we would like to change,” said Ted Thayer, TRPA’s invasive species program coordinator.Wednesday’s rate changes include a fee for decontaminating a boat. Thayer hopes the additional charge will encourage boaters to “clean, drain and dry” boats before coming to Lake Tahoe and decrease the number of decontaminations in 2012.The new fee structure was proposed by TRPA staff in anticipation of Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act funding going away. The new fees will cover 47 percent the inspection program’s cost, up from 29 percent under the previous fee structure.Program administrators will be looking at long-term funding sources for the program in an upcoming financial plan as well as how to make the program more efficient. TRPA hopes to find sources of funding for the program other than inspection fees, Zabaglo said. The average sticker would cost more than $100 if the program was funded exclusively by the fees, Zabaglo added.
The fees approved Wednesday follow the most successful year in the history of the lake’s aquatic invasive species program, Thayer said.The program focused on removing existing species, such as Asian clams, aquatic weeds and warmwater fish, from the lake and keeping undesirable species such as quagga and zebra mussels out.More than 100 tests for the presence of quagga and zebra mussels throughout 2011 yielded no detections.The Tahoe Resource Conservation District and California Department of Parks and Recreation removed about 6.5 acres of aquatic invasive weeds from three locations at Emerald Bay. The area is twice what was removed from all of Lake Tahoe last year, Thayer said. About 1.3 acres of weeds remain in the bay and are slated for removal this summer, said Jim Brockett, the aquatic invasive species program coordinator for the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.Bottom barriers that starve Asian clams of nutrients have been effective at killing populations along the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe, but the barriers have proved ineffective at killing a population at the mouth of Emerald Bay so far.“We did not see the same drop in dissolved oxygen that we saw at other areas of the lake,” Thayer told the board Wednesday.While researchers are sill investigating why the bottom barriers weren’t effective in Emerald Bay, the large volume of water flowing in and out of the mouth of the bay likely helped keep the clams alive, Thayer said. Researchers will continue to try and find ways to remove the clams from area, Thayer added.Staff from the California Department of Fish and Game and University of Nevada, Reno researchers removed 12,000 warmwater fish, totaling 2,157 pounds, from the lake in 2011, mostly at Tahoe Keys, Thayer said.Despite the number of fish removed from the area, capture rates did not go down, so it is unknown what impact 2011’s removal had on the number of warmwater fish in the lake. Additional removals are planned for this summer.Researchers also captured the first specimen of smallmouth bass from Lake Tahoe in 2011. While they knew the species was here, a specimen had not been captured by researchers until recently.The presence of smallmouth bass is troubling because they have been shown to impact mackinaw trout populations in other regions and can breed in the middle of the lake, unlike their largemouth counterparts, Thayer said. Near shore gill nets are being used to catch the species, Thayer said.