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Beach erosion another sign of storms’ strength

Amanda Fehd
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Zachary Hymanson, left, a watershed Restoration Specialist with the California Tahoe Conservancy, and Steve Goodman, also with the CTC, survey the damage Thursday at Barton Meadow after the recent floods.
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The series of rain and snowstorms that caused floods and power outages throughout Tahoe also washed away two large areas of beach east of the Tahoe Keys, opening Lake Tahoe to Barton Meadow.

Experts who toured the area this week said beach erosion is natural and will create habitat for waterfowl.

A sand dune along the beach collapsed 4 feet in two places, leaving a break stretching 5 yards across and 15 yards long, while the other larger break is 20 yards wide by 50 yards long. Similar erosion has also been spotted along beaches on the North Shore.

On Thursday, several people from the California Tahoe Conservancy’s soil erosion team went to Barton Meadow to survey the change.

Steve Goldman, the conservancy’s program director for soil erosion, said these breaks in the shore are natural, and will fill in with sand over time from wave action. The same two breaks have occurred before at the meadow, one about 20 years ago, the other during the 1997 New Year’s flood.

“People think meadows and rivers are static, like a picture, but they are not,” Goldman said. “They are dynamic and constantly changing.”

In the meantime, the breaks allow more water into the meadow and create wetland habitat for ducks and other waterfowl.

The meadow encompasses 331 acres behind Meek’s Hardware, and was purchased from the Barton family in 2000 by the state of California. The conservancy is a state agency which acquires land for preservation and public space.

Erosion along the lake’s shore, while dramatic looking, has minimal affects on Lake Tahoe’s clarity compared to what streams and rivers do, said UC Davis researcher Geoff Schladow.

“Clearly erosion is happening and continuing to happen on the shorezone,” Schladow said. “But it’s been shown that it’s a very small factor in declining clarity.”

Record flow rates

Trout Creek, which feeds Barton Meadow, had record flows over New Year’s. In 1997, it ran at 590 cubic feet per second. Two weeks ago, it ran at 640 cfs. The creek completely flooded the meadow two weeks ago.

Conservancy employee Bob Kingman lives in the house he grew up in, which is very close to Barton Meadow. The house’s garage has flooded four times in 30 years, including 1997 and two weeks ago.

He uses a fairly non-scientific gauge to compare floods: by how deep the water gets in his garage.

“The height of the water at its peak point was an inch deep in our garage,” Kingman said. “In ’97, it was 3 inches deep. This was very close to the ’97 flood, as far as how it affected us.”

The U.S. Forest Service, which manages land along Trout Creek farther upstream of the meadow, has installed several erosion control projects there and said they are paying off.

“Although a foot bridge was washed out, the stream stabilization, BMPs

and other upgrades we installed all held and minimized resource damage,” said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman in an e-mail.

BMPs are best management practices, and include erosion control improvements required of all property owners in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Forest Service also manages land in the Spring Creek Tract, which experienced severe flooding, and a washed out bridge. Improvements to that area are slated to start in 2007, Norman said.

Lost wetlands

More than half of Tahoe’s meadows have been lost to development. Meadows are natural filters of water and capture sediment when streams and rivers overflow.

Many BMP’s are designed to mimic the natural processes of meadows, said Brendan Ferry, leader of the erosion control team at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which regulates development at Lake Tahoe.

In the future, these BMPs may be designed to absorb a greater volume of water in order to decrease the erosion caused by very large floods.

“This was a major event,” Ferry said. “There was an incredible amount of water.”


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