Conservation program to target home owners |

Conservation program to target home owners

Patrick McCartney

Since last year’s Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, public agencies have signed off on a $900 million program to restore Lake Tahoe’s environment.

Now, it is time for Lake Tahoe residents and property owners to do their fair share.

That’s the bottom line of an ambitious new program by the Natural Resource Conservation Service to promote backyard conservation in the Tahoe Basin.

With the cooperation of the basin’s two state-funded conservation districts and local utilities, the federal conservation service is determined to elevate awareness of ways home owners can reduce erosion, cut back on the use of fertilizer and pesticides, and create mini-habitats for wildlife.

“Individual back yards aren’t large areas, but if you take the combined area it can have a big impact,” said Joe Thompson, service’s area conservationist. “We want to give people the information to do the right thing.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the service’s parent agency, will commit $30,000 a year to promote backyard conservation in the Tahoe Basin. The money is part of the federal government’s coordinated effort to restore Lake Tahoe.

Thompson said a contribution by private citizens is a logical next step to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Environmental Improvement Program, which calls for local, state and federal government to invest in the basin’s environment.

“The upper portion of our watersheds are managed by the Forest Service, and they have their own programs in the (presidential) deliverables,” Thompson said. “The next layer is the disturbance associated with road development in the basin. Caltrans and the Nevada Department of Transportation are undertaking projects to control erosion, stabilize slopes and treat runoff water. And the layer after that is the counties and cities retrofitting their road system.

“What that leaves are the impacts from land owners and development associated with growth in the basin. The lower end of the watershed is where the majority of development has occurred. It’s the closest to the lake, where erosion, fertilizers and pesticides have a direct impact on the lake.”

Suzanne Pearce of the California and Nevada conservation districts said Charles Goldman of the Tahoe Research Group has estimated nearly two-thirds of the sediment entering Lake Tahoe is carried by runoff from private property.

The Tahoe Resource Conservation District has received an $8,000 grant from the California Department of Conservation to hire a summer intern to work with individual land owners.

Pearce said the message to home owners and absentee residents is the importance of selecting hardier native plants for landscaping, and the need for structural projects to reduce erosion, such as absorbent beds beneath drip lines, French drains, retaining walls and timers for landscape irrigation.

Utility districts have agreed to help the educational program by including backyard conservation fliers in bill mailings. The South Tahoe Public Utility District recently included conservation material in 18,000 letters.

One significant change from past programs has been the adoption of a new name for the program. In the past, environmental projects for private property owners were referred to as Best Management Practices, a term better known by industry and farmers.

The new name of Backyard Conservation is much more descriptive, Thompson said.

“We’re bringing conservation from the countryside to your back yard,” he said.

At a glance:

What: Backyard Conservation Program

Who: Natural Resource Conservation Services and the Nevada and California conservation districts

Phone: 541-1496 (conservation service) or 541-4318 (conservation districts)

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