Concern expressed over cost of water quality plan
How local agencies can pay for a landmark water quality restoration plan that could be approved in November is a major concern, a number of local and regional officials said this week.
Representatives from El Dorado County, Placer County and South Lake Tahoe said they were unsure how they would implement a water quality restoration plan known as the Tahoe Maximum Daily Load given current and future budget constraints.
The TMDL has been under development by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection since 2001. The goal is to return Lake Tahoe to the visibility recorded in the late 1960s – when the lake averaged about 100 feet of clarity – by reducing fine sediment and nutrient input into the lake.
An interim challenge to reach about 80 feet of clarity is expected to take 15 years and $1.5 billion, according to the Final Lake Tahoe TMDL Report, released in June.
Agency representatives expressed concern about the cost of the plan at a water board meeting on Wednesday at Lake Tahoe Community College. The representatives said they felt the goal of the TMDL was laudable, but said the timing of its implementation is troubling.
With more cuts to services and another round of layoffs facing El Dorado County, it’s a “very difficult time” to pay for the projects required to meet the goals of the TMDL, said Russ Nygaard, deputy director of the county’s Department of Transportation. He asked for flexibility from the water board.
If capital funding from state and federal sources dries up, it would be especially difficult to meet the milestones in the TMDL, added Robert Erlich, South Lake Tahoe’s storm water coordinator. Other city services could be effected in an attempt to meet the goals in the plan, Erlich said.
Bob Costa, public works manager for Placer County, said the timing of the milestones is challenging and questioned the feasibility of timelines in the TMDL.
Bob Larsen, an environmental scientist with the water board, cautioned against relying solely on the cost estimates in the TMDL report because they are “very rough.”
While restoring lake clarity won’t come cheap, work done by Placer County indicates the actual cost of TMDL implementation could be below the estimates, Larsen said.
Two of six seated water board members, Keith Dyas and Mike Dispenza, said they would favor extending the TMDL timeline given the current state of the economy. Three seats on the water board are vacant.
Implementing the plan at a time when government budgets continue to shrink means the water board could “be setting ourselves up to fail,” Dispenza said.
Water Board Executive Director Harold Singer encouraged the board to continue with the current timeline, saying the plan provides options for mitigating the financial concerns. The board’s concern is water quality, not funding, Singer added.
“By setting a target that people have to stretch a little bit for is important to move this forward,” Singer said.
The water board has broad discretion when it comes to enforcing its rules and can take financial hardship into consideration when deciding whether to impose penalties based on violations of the TMDL timeline, Singer said.
State funding could also become available if it’s determined the TMDL amounts to an unfunded mandate, Singer said.
Water board staff expect to bring the TMDL before the water board for inclusion into the agency’s basin plan at its Nov. 9 and 10 meeting in Kings Beach.