Truckee is the nation’s first municipality to pass an aquatic invasive species ordinance. Why? Although most municipalities have rivers that run through them and many have lakes that are potential sites for AIS, few have the scientific capability to evaluate non-native species or the money to prevent them.
Truckee doesn’t have scientists to evaluate potential AIS in Donner Lake or the Truckee River, which passes through seven miles of town. And it doesn’t have the money to operate AIS prevention and control programs.
How then did my town end up with the distinction of becoming North America’s first municipality to have a mandatory boat inspection program? Easy: we incorporated faulty TRPA science and use unsuspecting Reno water customers’ money.
Since 2009, Reno’s water utility, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) has funded more than $1 million for voluntary boat inspections in Donner Lake. Ron Penrose, a TMWA engineer who manages his company’s funding of the Truckee program, justifies underwriting Donner Lake boat inspections by saying that Reno doesn’t want to suffer the tens of millions of dollars of damages that quagga mussels have caused in Las Vegas.
Penrose is wrong about quagga’s ability to survive in Donner Lake and about the cost of controlling the nation’s worst quagga infestation. Las Vegas annually spends $150,000 to keep their water system mussel-free — $100,000 less per year than TMWA spends to keep mussels out of Donner Lake, where ironically, they can’t survive because of the lake’s exceptionally low calcium.
Why then did Truckee town staff tell their town council that the program would only cost $25,000 and would make money for the town? Because they only considered what boaters would pay and not TMWA’s customers, who will underwrite more than 90 percent of the program’s actual cost.
Some in Truckee took pride in codifying public policy they believe will protect Donner’s native aquatic species. Never mind that there are no native species that are threatened, or non-native species to protect the lake from.
Donner’s Mackinaw, brown, and rainbow trout were introduced by wildlife services, and they killed off the Lahontan cutthroat trout, the lake’s only native trout. And non-native crayfish and Asian clams were introduced by anglers as bait to catch the non-native trout.
The California State Water Project is an example of how complex AIS management is. The California Department of Water Resources manages the world’s largest public power and water conveyance system: 34 storage facilities, 20 pumping plants, five hydroelectric power plants, and approximately 700 miles of canals and aqueducts.
SWP transports Sierra snowmelt from streams with calcium concentrations below 6 parts per million — half that necessary for quagga to survive — to Santa Barbara County where calcium is 15 times greater. SWP provides drinking water to 23 million people and irrigates 750,000 acres of farmland.
CDWR not only has its own scientists, but draws on the resources of the California Quagga and Zebra Mussel Interagency Team.
Still, CDWR retained RNT Consulting, the world’s foremost private authority on quagga and zebra mussels, to formulate their plan.
CDWR determined of the 14 SWP lakes they have jurisdiction over and that allow boating, half have calcium concentrations “unsuitable for quagga and zebra mussels,” and those lakes have no inspections. Seven lakes have dissolved calcium above 16 ppm and have mandatory inspections; Donner has calcium of 8 ppm and Tahoe’s is 9 ppm.
Four laymen from the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and the Truckee River Watershed Council determined Donner Lake is at risk for AIS infestation. They are wrong, and their hubris is the foundation of an unnecessary program that ignores the Truckee River and Boca, Prosser, and Stampede reservoirs — but it’s guaranteed to be successful, because no non-native species threatens Donner Lake.
Steve Urie is a Truckee resident.