Coalition of interests opposes high lake level |

Coalition of interests opposes high lake level

Patrick McCartney

Lake Tahoe’s high water level this year has damaged property and caused an unacceptable amount of erosion into the lake, a coalition of property owners and environmentalists has charged.

The unlikely coalition of interests will ask the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board to intervene in the current revision of the 1935 Truckee River Operating Agreement and lobby for a lower lake level.

“There has been no advocate for Lake Tahoe in the process,” said Gregg Lien, a Tahoe City attorney who expressed his concerns last week at a meeting of the TRPA’s shorezone partnership committee. “Right Now, the downstream water users seem to be dictating the rules.”

Lien, who represents the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council, was joined by the Tahoe Lakefront Property Owners Association and the League to Save Lake Tahoe in expressing a concern with the lake level.

“Shoreline erosion really is the No. 1 cause of soil erosion,” Lien said.

Jan Brisco, the executive director of the group for shoreline property owners, said many West Shore properties were damaged during east winds after torrential rains filled the lake to its legal maximum level in December.

“It’s not so much the elevation itself, but inadequate storage capacity for winter storms and spring runoff,” Brisco said.

Jeff Cutler, the League’s assistant executive director, said the environmental group, which often adopts causes that conflict with the interests of property owners, shares their concerns when it comes to lake level.

“It’s an unusual instance where we all agree, but not a surprise considering the problem,” Cutler said. “There’s an awful lot of energy and money being spent to reduce the amount of erosion and nutrients going into Lake Tahoe. It seems to undermine those efforts to allow a higher-than-natural lake level to cause shoreline erosion.”

At issue is a 6.1-foot dam that a private power company constructed on the Truckee River in Tahoe City – Lake Tahoe’s only outlet – more than 80 years ago.

Downstream recipients of Lake Tahoe’s 750,000-acre-feet of storage capacity have wrangled for years over equitable distribution of the water. In 1990, the Pyramid Washo Tribe finally resolved its differences with Sierra Pacific, a major water customer.

An environmental evaluation of the revised Truckee River Operating Agreement is currently under way, led by the federal Department of the Interior. As part of the review process, a series of workshops on the proposed agreement will be held in different locations within the Truckee River watershed, including the Tahoe Basin.

As part of the process, a meeting will be held April 30 in Tahoe City to plant the schedule of public workshops. That will be followed by the release of the environmental documents, and a 60-day comment period.

Jeffrey Zippin, who is the Interior department’s team leader in the complex negotiations, said Lake Tahoe’s level will be one of the variables examined in the environmental review.

The state of California would like to exercise greater influence on how the watershed’s resources are used this time around, said Mal Toy, assistant director of planning for the Placer County Water Agency.

“To date, the operation of the dam has been set by an early-1900s perspective,” Toy said. “The 1935 agreement mainly took into account the interests in Nevada for flood control and downstream water users. This time, we feel that California should be an equal partner at the table.”

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