Can Lake Tahoe be saved? |

Can Lake Tahoe be saved?

No one knows if we can restore Lake Tahoe’s remarkable water clarity or even what it would take to halt the decline in that clarity. As we described in last week’s article, there has been a fairly steady reduction in water clarity (the distance one can see objects, such as a Secchi Disk, below the surface) since scientific measurements began in 1968. The depth we could see in 1968 was 105 feet, or about 50 percent greater than today’s depth of about 70 feet. The considerable protection efforts by the federal government and California and Nevada since the late ’70s have not yet shown a positive effect in reducing the rate of water quality decline. But Alan Heyvaert, a researcher from UC Davis, has found evidence in the sediments on the lake bottom that the lake has recovered from pollution before. He has taken core samples of the layers of sediment on the floor of the lake which indicate that water quality was likely reduced during the Comstock silver mining boom of the late 1800s, when most of the forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin were clear-cut to provide timber for the mines. When the boom died out and the logging stopped, the forests in the basin grew again, and the soil disturbances healed over time. During the first half of the 20th century, the lake’s water quality and clarity actually improved. Given this evidence, there is hope that we can stop Tahoe’s decline if we can reduce the unnaturally high levels of nutrients and fine sediments that enter the lake due to human disturbances. Tahoe’s current problems began in the 1960s when the popular Squaw Valley Olympics triggered a boom — a sharp rise in urbanization in the Tahoe basin. The construction boom disrupted the watershed’s natural water filtration processes, and the combined effects of soil erosion, nutrient pollution and air pollution caused the decline we have measured since the ’60s. Because watershed restoration efforts to date have not reversed the downward trend of water quality, and because Tahoe is considered a national treasure, state, federal and local governments have committed to a new level of cooperative effort to save the lake from turning green. The Lake Tahoe environmental improvement program is a model for collaboration between public agencies and the private sector to stop the inflow of pollutants into the lake. More than 800 restoration projects are being planned and millions of dollars are being raised to fund this massive, cooperative effort. While experts agree the lake can recover if we greatly reduce pollution, they urge citizens to be patient. We must continue our efforts to repair the soil disturbances of urbanization, so the watershed can recover as it did when the forests grew back in the early 1900s. If we can greatly reduce the amounts of nutrient and fine sediment pollution that reach the lake, Heyvaert’s research indicates that water quality could improve within 20 or 30 years. — Watch for the Enviro Report in the Tahoe Daily Tribune each Wednesday, and tune in to KOLO-TV News Channel 8 Tuesdays at 5 p.m. Next week learn more about how removing snow the right way can make a difference. The Enviro Report is a collaborative effort of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, UC Davis and the U.S. Forest Service. For more information, contact Heather Segale at (775) 832-4138, or log on to or

Record 113,411 fans watch college hockey match

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The moment everyone was waiting for finally came during the third period, when fans at Michigan Stadium found out for certain they’d set a hockey attendance record. Carl Hagelin, a Michigan forward, paused to savor the atmosphere. “I think we all got goose bumps,” Hagelin said. “It was just amazing to see all those people – probably the loudest environment I’ve ever been in.” Hagelin scored two goals in the Wolverines’ 5-0 victory over Michigan State on Saturday, but the final score was only part of what made this a memorable experience. The crowd, which filled the outdoor stadium’s expansive bowl, set a world attendance record for a hockey game. Michigan announced the attendance at 113,411 during a brief stoppage in play in the third period, although Mike Janela of Guinness World Records said his organization hadn’t determined its official count yet. Janela did verify that the attendance was more than enough for a world record. The previous mark for a hockey game was 77,803 at this year’s world championship in Germany. “Ten years from now, I’m probably going to remember the most fun I’ve ever had on the ice,” Michigan State’s Torey Krug said. “Look at these 22-year-old men and they’re like little kids.” The game – dubbed “The Big Chill at the Big House” – took place nine years after the same two teams played another outdoor game at Michigan State’s football stadium. Since then, the idea has been copied at the college level and by the NHL. The huge crowd made this edition unique. The school’s announced attendance would make this the largest crowd to see any sporting event at Michigan Stadium, surpassing the 113,090 for a football game earlier this year. “I don’t know where they found the new seats,” cracked Michigan coach Red Berenson, whose normal home venue holds 6,637. “It’s good for the state of Michigan. When you have a game like this in a state where the economy is bad, it gives you something to feel good about.” The “Big Chill” nickname was a bit of a misnomer, with the temperature in the low 40s at the beginning of the game. With the lines on Michigan’s football field still clearly visible, the Olympic-sized rink stretched from one 15-yard line to the other. Instead of adding even more seats for fans, organizers kept the area around the ice clear so fireworks could be set off after goals and again after the game. “We were in trouble if it rained,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. “We could handle a little snow. In fact, I thought it would be kind of festive to have a little bit of snow, and temperatures – we could really handle a fair variant of temperatures. Warmer was better for the ice, but we were going to be fine unless we had rain. Rain and sleet, that would have been dangerous for the players.” The sky was fairly clear when the Michigan band began performing in the north end zone before the start of the game. Then Jon Merrill opened the scoring with a shot from the point in the first period, and the crowd let loose with a roar normally reserved for touchdowns in this venue. Microphones were placed close enough to the ice to amplify the normal hockey sounds of the puck hitting the boards and players skating swiftly back and forth, making it easier for those seated far away to feel like they were part of the action. An Olympic-sized rink, which is wider than an NHL version, was used to make the sheet look a little less small on top of the football field. Although wind and rough ice can always cause problems at events like this, the game wasn’t too sloppy. Merrill added a second goal before the end of the first period, and then Hagelin added one in the second and another in the third. David Wohlberg completed the scoring for Michigan. Shawn Hunwick finished with 34 saves for the Wolverines. Brandon said the event is unlikely to become an annual tradition, but it could potentially be played in four-year cycles “in such a way that every student-athlete that plays hockey here could get a chance to participate in something like this.” Janela said Guinness would need a bit longer to come up with an official attendance figure, possibly using detailed photos of the crowd to make a final count. Guinness receives over 1,000 record applications a week, although only about three percent are approved. “People really latch on to one I did in Mexico for the largest serving of roast pork – over 3,000 pounds,” Janela said. “I’ve always wanted to come to the Big House. I never thought it would be for a hockey game.”

Clearly Tahoe offers new perspective of Lake Tahoe with clear kayaks

Lake Tahoe's clarity is one of its hallmark features and something locals strive to preserve. Geoff Miller and Kelsey Weist, proprietors of local kayak rental service, Clearly Tahoe, developed a way to combine fun, appreciating the lake's clarity and aiding in preservation. Since last year, the couple has been renting polycarbonate kayaks that are completely transparent, allowing for some unique viewing of the lake. Clearly Tahoe also equips each kayak with a book of flash cards that help identify invasive species, encouraging their customers to use and log anything they see. Miller and Weist say they've been spending time on the water most of their lives, doing anything from kayaking to scuba diving and snorkeling, but wanted to bring something to Lake Tahoe that would allow for cool views, without having to be submerged in the chilly water. "This allows for people to be able to see the depth and the clarity through a different perspective," said Weist. "Sometimes you can see a little deeper than you would off the side of a boat. [The kayaks] are clear so they break the surface reflection and enables you to see down a little further than you normally would with the naked eye." As of now, Clearly Tahoe doesn't offer rentals from a centralized, beachside location, but does schedule private rentals and guided tours through its website. "If you have lakefront property or your own access point, odds are we can bring them to you," said Weist. "Or better yet, we can put them in the lake for you and provide a guide. That's been a pretty good route for us so far. It's a lot more pre-organized and personalized." Miller said when he first thought about what it would be like to paddle a clear kayak, he didn't even know if they existed. "The idea actually came to me one day while we were kayaking," said Miller. "There were some places where I thought it would be nice to see more clearly, and wondered if there actually was a clear kayak. I started looking into it and I saw that there was a company that actually makes them. Why does no one do this on Lake Tahoe? This place is know for its depths, its clarity, so I thought why not bring it here." According to Weist and Miller, the kayaks aren't designed for speed and maneuvering, like a typical sit-in kayak, but use is mostly meant for slower-placed, scenic touring. There is a significant amount of work that comes with keeping the kayaks in top shape, but having a crystal clear kayak in the end is the payoff. "We have to buff them out every two weeks," said Weist. "They get sanded down, polished — it's a lot of maintenance, but it's worth it, which is why we provide the type of service that we do." Weist also explained that there are certain areas the kayaks wouldn't be ideal due to varying levels of clarity. "With the water levels changing, season changing, the current, different areas tend to be a little more appropriate for them," she said. "We take them to certain areas that area appropriate for them at that given time." Weist and Miller have also been using their business as a tool to keep the lake clear. "We're both passionate about the water and keeping Tahoe clear," said Weist. "We saw this a great opportunity to educate people on things like the clarity of the water and invasive species." Miller said they've been pretty successful in educating a lot of their customers and several have came back in after kayaking to report some things they saw. "We've partnered with the [League To Save Lake Tahoe] to help out with what they're doing with invasive species and clarity levels," said Miller. "We try to inform people on that just so they're aware of it." Clearly Tahoe usually operates during the warm months and say they will probably wrap up operations by September or October. Their rentals start at $85 for two hours and discounts are available for additional kayaks added to a group. For information on kayaks, rentals and guided tours, visit or call 530-554-4664.

Book review: ‘Saving Lake Tahoe’

Lake Tahoe has worldwide appeal. She brings travelers from all corners of the globe to bask in her abundant beauty and find reflection in her peaceful blue waters. But are we loving her to death? In "Saving Lake Tahoe" author Michael J. Makley presents an all-inclusive overview of Lake Tahoe's environmental history, from the native Washoe who inhabited her untouched shores to the Americans who used her resources for the country's good and pleasure. It is a tale of where we've been, where we are now and where we'd like to be. Makley brilliantly captures this saga on 233 pages, citing a linear account of environmental events of major impact. These events include massive forest clear-cutting, the extinction of the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the formation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Much of the discussion is controversial, perhaps even political, but this is to be expected when two states, five counties and more than 60 agencies comingle for a cause and a consensus. It's been said, "different opinions make the world go round." This statement is never truer than when environment versus growth, business interests and property rights are up for discussion. We have almost destroyed Lake Tahoe twice. Clear-cutting of forests on a grand scale brought her to her knees, but, with time left alone, she healed. Then there were the water wars, the planting of non-native fish, sewage pollution, rapid population growth after the Olympics, the casinos and hotels that popped up like spring flowers and the roads that led to them. Lake clarity can serve as a reference point. In 1873 a white dinner plate was dropped to the bottom of Lake Tahoe, setting the standard. It could be seen at 108.27 feet below the surface. By 1973 visibility was reduced to 85.6 feet. Today this same test measures visibility at around 70 feet. "Saving Lake Tahoe" is not light reading. But if you're a die-hard environmentalist or if you simply love Lake Tahoe, you will find it vastly interesting. There are many dates, court cases and players in the pot, but each serve a role in Makley's broad-brushed picture. The recounting of Tahoe's environmental disasters is sure to strike a blow to the core of your sensibilities. It did mine. "How could this have happened?" You might be inspired to learn more and even get involved after reading these accounts. The front cover speaks volumes. Here, two kayakers glide along Lake Tahoe's shoreline in crystal clear, blue waters while massive, smooth, water-worn rocks loom well below the water's surface. This sublime image, superimposed on a radiantly green pine forest, gives readers a moment to pause and consider the relationship between Tahoe's natural ecosystems and human activity. "Saving Lake Tahoe" brings to mind the massive responsibility with which we've been charged. We must not turn a blind eye. Let us learn lessons from the past and improve as we look forward to the future. To do otherwise would be a disgrace. "Saving Lake Tahoe" is published by the University of Nevada Press. Gloria Sinibaldi resides part-time in South Lake Tahoe. Her short story, "A Means To Survive," appears in "Tahoe Blues." She is a job coach, trainer and author. Contact her at:

League to Save Lake Tahoe meeting

The League to Save Lake Tahoe is hosting a tour of the Ehrman Mansion at D.L. Bliss State Park this weekend to educate residents about a part of Lake Tahoe’s history. Bill Lindeman of California State Parks plans to lead a tour of the historic mansion. Participants are supposed to meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at the League’s South Shore office, 955 Emerald Bay Road. The League, which has existed more than 40 years, is Tahoe’s oldest organization dedicated solely to the environment of the basin. For nearly a year, the organization has conducted monthly weekend retreats where participants snowshoe through old-growth forests, go on wildflower hikes and kayak in Tahoe. Information is available by calling (530) 541-5388.

Letter: Power crisis benefits conglomerates

To the editor: Deregulation of the power industry has left California in an energy crisis. Our governor and state Legislature have been working diligently to solve this problem. President Bush rejected the call for price controls on electricity to hold down the soaring electricity costs in California. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the California power crisis is the energy conglomerate Enron Corp. of Houston, Texas. Enron has reaped giant revenue increases from California’s power shortages. Enron and its employees gave $113,800 to Bush’s presidential campaign; $250,000 to the Republican National Convention host committee; and $300,000 to the Presidential Inauguration Committee. Enron Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lay raised more than $100,000 for Bush’s campaign and is a member of the president’s energy transition team. Is Bush’s rejection of California consumers coincidental or is he acting in favor of his cronies gouging the people of California? If you follow the money, I think the answer is abundantly clear. Donna Pownall Tahoe City

Snowblower smothers fire: Driver clears driveway, saves Tahoe-Donner house

TRUCKEE – It was a little after 3 a.m. on a Sunday earlier this month when the Tahoe Donner home ignited, fanned by the winds of a gusty winter storm. The family slept soundly as the flames, which started from unattended woodstove ashes, licked up the front siding and began charring the home’s upstairs deck. At the same time, Jacob McCauley, a Waltman Snow Removal employee, was making the early morning rounds on Jan. 9 in his snowblower. As he peered from the windows of his machine, McCauley noticed an orange glow coming from the nearby home’s entryway. “It looked like a small campfire on the guy’s porch,” McCauley said. The fire was feeding off a small woodpile near the front door, and continued to grow as McCauley pulled into the driveway. “He arrived on the scene right when the house ignited,” said Joanne Waltman, owner of Waltman Snow Removal. McCauley then used his machine as he probably had never used it before. He started flinging snow from the driveway onto the porch, deck and siding. The cascade of snow quickly smothered the blaze, and with the fire reduced to a smolder, McCauley moved to the door to awaken the sleeping family. “I banged on the doors and banged on the windows,” McCauley said. The family, who declined to comment for this article, woke up and used a garden hose to help finish off the fire. As smoke filled the house and four fire engines and a fire battalion arrived, the family evacuated. For the Truckee Fire Protection District, the story of the fire in Tahoe Donner is all too familiar. Improper ash disposal leads to a significant number of house fires each year that could easily be avoided. To ensure that your home does not catch fire from woodstove or barbecue ashes, put the ashes in a metal bucket with a tight-fitting lid for at least three days before disposal, or douse the ashes with water until they’re cool to the touch, said Gene Welch, public information officer with the Truckee Fire Protection District. Do not spread ashes on the ground and don’t leave them on the tray below the grill of a barbecue; they might blow away.

Agencies have clear goal for Lake Tahoe

Two agencies involved in scientific work are getting ready to make a historic agreement that should help all organizations in the basin collaborate to preserve Lake Tahoe’s clarity, officials said Thursday. The University of California, Davis and U.S. Geological Survey are working to compile all of the Lake Tahoe Basin stream monitoring data available and perform a joint analysis of the information. “(The deal is) done. It’s just a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s,” John Reuter, researcher for the UC Davis Tahoe Research Group, said Thursday at the second Lake Tahoe Basin Research Symposium. Reuter and Jon Nowlin, chief of the USGS Nevada district, said the idea for the collaboration came from the first research symposium held in October 1998. Historically research agencies have had different agendas, and collaboration has been largely absent in the basin. However, facilitated by the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s completion of the Environmental Improvement Program, there has been a push by all agencies to work together to save Lake Tahoe’s clarity. USGS and UC Davis plan to take all of the stream monitoring data from their agencies as well as others. TRPA, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, University of Nevada, Reno, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service and several other agencies are expected to be involved. The data can help researchers determine how stream loading affects Lake Tahoe, and it should help planners determine ways to help preserve the clarity. “I think it’s something we absolutely need to have up here,” Reuter said. “USGS, TRG, TRPA and several other agencies have been involved with loading of nutrients from streams since the 1980s. I think both the GS and UC agree that there is a wealth of untapped information there.” What makes the collaboration historic is that apart, rather than together, is how research agencies typically work. “I think the real significant thing is the agencies coming together, pulling together, to address issues with a common focus,” Nowlin said. “That’s not the historical way of doing things.” The symposium was held Wednesday evening and most of the day Thursday. It was the second of four planned symposia. Stemming from the presidential visit, the meetings are supposed to be a forum for officials to share information, discuss research needs and collaborate on planning further research. While the first symposium was supposed to allow all agencies the opportunity to learn what everyone else was doing, this week’s symposium as well as the next one are intended to help establish a framework to help unify the efforts, said Jane Freeman, Lake Tahoe Basin coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “We’re trying to determine how do we do this? How do we put together a framework for the next eight to 10 years?” she said. Besides the USGS/UC Davis agreement, other collaborative efforts are under way. According to Carl Hasty of TRPA, the most notable of those efforts is a watershed assessment currently being compiled by several agencies as well as motorized watercraft research that was completed last year. “That was something unique. That was a focused (issue) that brought several different institutions together to focus on one problem,” Hasty said. Nearly 200 people attended the two-day event. Unfortunately, Freeman said, a large majority of those attending the symposium were research or government agencies. Members of the public were noticeably absent. “How do we get the public involved?” Freeman said. “I guess that’s something we haven’t figured out how to do yet, but I think that’s part of what we’re trying to build into this.” One member of the public who did attend the symposium, however, was South Tahoe High School teacher Jamie Greenough. In teaching local environmental issues to her students, Greenough said she has closely followed the work being done at Tahoe. She said she feels Tahoe officials are on the right track with the symposia. “Every meeting I go to I see more collaboration and more barriers being broken down,” she said. Back to Front Page

Douglas school budget hammer falls tonight

After months of debate and discussion, Douglas County School District Superintendent Carol Lark has settled on a list of recommended budget cuts to be submitted to school board members 5 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, at Douglas High School. “It is my intention to recommend that the board approve the entire list at this meeting,” Lark said. “They may choose to take something off and add something else.” The list includes more than 30 items totaling about $2.8 million worth of cuts for the 2009-10 school year. The school district must finalize their budget by May, before knowing exactly how the state budget will be worked out in the Legislature. “I do not recommend that it (the list) be prioritized simply because we are still dealing with the unknown,” Lark said. “We will not know the true outcome until the legislators make their decisions.” Also unknown is the effect any federal stimulus money will have on the district. “We only know what we read in the paper about the mitigation and stimulus money,” Lark said. “If, and when, we have a real target, I will then bring the list back to the board with my prioritized recommendations.” Leading the list in value is a “holiday premium,” a one-month period during which the district would not pay from its general fund to the employees’ self-funded health insurance program. The measure would generate a one-time savings of $500,000, but would also apply to dependents of employees in the program. At a previous meeting, Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna said extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. “You’re not going to get me to say that it (the self-funded program) is healthy enough,” she said. “But is this something you do in extraordinary times? Yes.” Although middle school sports have been removed from the list, athletics might still suffer some reductions. The elimination of transportation for nonleague games would create a one-time savings of $100,000. The elimination of field trips would save $72,000. Personnel in many departments would also be affected by the proposed cuts. The custodial division looks to take the biggest hit with a reduction of five full-time equivalents worth $216,000. A reduction in elementary school computer aides, two by attrition, would save $113,500. The attrition of two gifted and talented teachers would save $76,000. Although regular classroom teachers appear to be safe, substitute teachers would take a pay cut. More than $70,000 would be saved if pay for substitute teachers was dropped from $104 a day to $94 a day and from $52 for a half day to $47 for a half day.

South Lake Tahoe councilwoman cleared in bribery investigation

A South Lake Tahoe councilwoman has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing after a bribery investigation by the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office. Angela Swanson was investigated for accepting "an uncounted bag of cash" from career criminal Gennaro 'Gino' DiMatteo between two votes on the future of DiMatteo's former medical marijuana dispensary in the city. The cash was for Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation, a charity Swanson is involved with. The cash transaction was set up and attended by Swanson and no receipt was given during the transaction, according to the investigation. "Our investigation revealed that Mr. DiMatteo clearly believed that prior to councilmember Swanson's vote on his dispensary he was told that he needed to make a donation to a local South Lake Tahoe charity," District Attorney Vern Pierson wrote in a four-page letter to the South Lake Tahoe City Council. "Mr. DiMatteo told investigators it was his understanding — 'you scratch my back, I scratch yours.'" The cash transaction involved approximately $1,100. In the letter to the City Council dated Jan. 17, Pierson states it was clearly an attempted bribery under California Penal Code. But an investigation involving multiple witness interviews, search warrants on multiple locations and a review of voluminous documents concluded that while it is clear DiMatteo believed he was attempting to bribe Swanson, it is equally clear that Swanson had already intended to vote favorably for his marijuana dispensary. "Upon a final review of all the evidence, it is our conclusion that South Lake Tahoe City Councilmember Swanson's actions do not rise to the level sufficient to file criminal charges as she clearly harbored no criminal intent. Accordingly, this case is now closed," Pierson wrote. The investigation also revealed that the South Lake Tahoe City Council approved permits for DiMatteo to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the city despite his being a convicted felon and city ordinances prohibiting convicted felons from running dispensaries. Swanson said she appreciates how thorough the district attorney's office was in its investigation and how strongly it made the finding that she harbored no criminal intent in the interaction and always voted with integrity. "I appreciate them taking their time, doing their job thoughtfully and carefully and coming through with a perspective I heartily agree with and appreciate," Swanson said. DiMatteo is serving time in federal prison. He was sentenced to five years as part of a plea agreement reached in April 2013. As part of that agreement, DiMatteo pleaded guilty to a single felony count of drug trafficking. During a 2012 raid on his Angora Lake Road home, authorities recovered about 5 pounds of processed marijuana and found an inactive grow room that they estimated could have yielded between 22 and 25 pounds of marijuana four times a year and made about $320,000 annually. According to Pierson, DiMatteo has "bragged openly of connections to organized crime."