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$25 million goes to lake

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s budget skyrocketed this year so it can work to preserve the clarity of the nearly 40 trillion gallons of water in Lake Tahoe.

The budget jumped more than $10 million over last year’s $15 million budget because of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. President Bill Clinton authorized the U.S. Congress to spend $300 million to fund the act in November 2000.

Congress was expected to send LTBMU $30 million a year for 10 years, but with the attacks of Sept. 11 and the creation of Homeland Security, the money appropriated for 2002 was less than once hoped for.

“Each year you go back to Congress to see how much they give us. We don’t know,” said Deputy Forest Supervisor Edmund Gee. “We try to remain as optimistic as possible. Realistically when the president creates a new agency like Homeland Security with a budget $38 billion, it’s coming out of somewhere.”

The extra money will go toward more than 100 projects designed to stop the clouding of the lake, which has increased more than a foot a year for about three decades. Gee said part of the LTBMU’s job is to preserve clarity by stopping nutrients from getting into the lake.

Scientists say it is the influx of nitrogen and phosphorus that gives birth to lake-clouding algae.

LTBMU plans to attack the problem by continuing its wood-thinning program. Gee said a catastrophic fire in the basin would mean massive erosion and contribute to nutrients in the lake. They also plan to revamp parking and restrooms at Eagle Falls and the Tallac Historic Site, where nutrients drain into streams and then into the lake.

The unit also will continue to manage vacant lots by thinning trees, work on road and trail improvements and replace old bridges on the East Shore. The budget has $6 million set aside to buy up land so it will not be developed. Educating the public is also a priority.

“We have to build support from within — tell people what not to do to help us,” Gee said. “It’s a two-way street. How can we help one another to save this lake?”

Another $500,000 is designated to study, in cooperation with TRPA and South Tahoe Public Utility District, ways to arrest MTBE, a gasoline additive that contaminated more than a third of STPUD’s wells.

The wells were shut down in 2000 because of the contamination and STPUD since has sued a number of oil companies which sold the gasoline. Lawyers for STPUD have received a cash settlement for a number of the suits but several are still unresolved.

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act is the federal government’s contribution to a $908 million Environmental Improvement Program — now more than $1.4 billion due to inflation. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and dozens of other public organizations adopted the EIP in 1997. It relies on a combination of federal, state, county and city funds to help enforce environmental standards.

LTBMU’s budget began to increase in 1998 after Clinton promised federal money to help preserve the lake. The LTBMU budget was about $8 million before the forum. The following year it jumped up about $3 million, thanks to funding called “presidential deliverables,” Gee said.

Money approved by the president gradually increased from 1998 to 2001 with last year’s budget coming in at $15 million.


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