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Feinstein talks stats at Lake Tahoe visit

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. – The long-awaited federal funding that is needed to rescue Lake Tahoe from turning into a swampy, green lake is on the way, said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Feinstein, D-Calif., admitted Saturday that the federal government’s 1997 promise to kick in roughly $300 million to save Lake Tahoe’s threatened water clarity is trickling in at an alarmingly slow rate. The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, expected for vote by the Senate and House in October, would change the tide.

“When it comes to saving the lake, the federal government must lead and the money we have committed so far is simply not adequate,” Feinstein told about 200 members of the environmental group the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Today we have a bill that has passed the authorizing committees of both the House and the Senate … we are on our way.”



Sponsored by Feinstein and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Richard Bryan, D-Nev., the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act is a crucial funding source for the Environmental Improvement Project – a collaborative plan to carry out $908 million of environmental restoration projects within the basin by 2007, a deadline determined by scientists as the date when damages become irreversible.

“The scientists tell us that unless action is taken in the next decade, we can forget about saving Lake Tahoe. It will be too late to reverse the eutrophication that is taking place today and Lake Tahoe will no longer be blue,” Feinstein warned.




The cost and work of the program is divvied up among the private sector and local, state and federal governments. The Restoration Act would provide $300 million over the next 10 years to Lake Tahoe projects, fulfilling Clinton’s promise to provide $297.2 million to the Environmental Improvement Project.

So far, the federal government has contributed about $50 million to the cause, a tally far behind California which has already kicked in about $159 million of its $275 million commitment. Nevada, local governments and the private sector have also shown a strong effort to provide their share.

Feinstein said the federal government’s money is needed for forest health restoration, saying that the basin’s tinderbox forests, of which about 70 percent is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, remain a huge environmental threat.

“Almost one-third of the trees are dead or dying and the forest around the lake is in a condition that could fuel a potentially catastrophic fire at any time,” Feinstein said. “Of course the forests affect watersheds. They affect all the businesses and homes that have been built on new urban lands that were until very recently forest and wildlands.”

Large-scale fires, even when they flare outside the Lake Tahoe Basin, threaten the lake’s crystalline clarity, said Charles Goldman, Ph.D., from the Tahoe Research Group at the University of California, Davis.

“We had the highest algal growth rate in the lake the year that Southern California had a big fire and there was a lot of smoke in the basin,” said Goldman, who also spoke to League members.

Smaller controlled burns have not been shown to be harmful to the lake, according to Tahoe Research Group studies.

The colossal effort to stop Lake Tahoe’s fading clarity, which is losing its transparency at the rate of about 1 foot each year, is being organized by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Lake Tahoe’s bistate regulator. About 40 percent of the $908 million commitment has been realized, mostly in property acquisitions and erosion control projects, according to the TRPA.

BREAK IT DOWN:

The Environmental Improvement Project calls for $908 million in environmental improvement and restoration projects to be completed by 2007. The total project cost is divvied up among federal, state and local governments and the private sector.

Total Project cost: $908 million

Federal contribution: $297.2 million

Nevada contribution: $82 million

California contribution: $275.1 million

Local government contribution: $101 million

Private sector contribution: $152.7 million


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