Two years ago, California, Nevada, the U.S. EPA and our local partners adopted a plan to reduce the sediment that reduces Lake Tahoe’s clarity. With this restoration plan in place and some help from the weather — two dry years — the lake’s clarity has increased by a remarkable 11 feet. Managing for clarity is possible, and our goal is to progress beyond today’s 75-foot clarity to achieve a nearly 100-foot standard by 2076.
Estimates show that since 2004 fine sediment from urban runoff has declined by 6 percent in the City of South Lake Tahoe, 5 percent in Placer County, 11 percent in El Dorado County, 15 percent in Douglas County and 31 percent in Washoe County. These successes are due to a combination of water quality improvement projects, better practices on private properties, and changes in road management, including sweeping — which can mean virtual vacuuming of roads in key areas. Lake Tahoe is a national treasure, but local governments are the ones on the cutting edge of solving the clarity challenge.
While some of these changes benefiting lake clarity are being made at relatively low cost, others take significant resources. Recent budgetary challenges have led to diminished state and federal funds, as current projects spend down California and Nevada bonds and the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funds. The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, co-sponsored by all four California and Nevada senators, offers the prospect of a new era of funding to ensure that past investments are not lost. But the bill’s passage and the dollars appropriated depend on contributions by both public and private sectors. Only by renewing the spirit of partnership can we build on the excellent start given to Lake Tahoe, fulfilling the promise set by the very first Presidential Forum in 1997 to restore the lake to its legendary clarity.
Vice President Al Gore will be back in the Sierras this week to attend the annual Lake Tahoe Summit. Along with Senators Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein, and Dean Heller and Govs. Brian Sandoval and Jerry Brown, they will be highlighting the need for continued protection and restoration of this extraordinary mountain lake. Each of us can do our part by working with conservation districts to make sure the rain that falls on your property soaks in, rather than runs off as dirty water into the lake. And we can support and be patient with our local governments in their street sweeping and other efforts to reduce fine particles from entering the lake. Together we have shown that we can restore Lake Tahoe to its natural glory.
— Jared Blumenfeld is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region.