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Governor comes to Tahoe to learn about lake

TAHOE CITY-The new administration in California is committed to fulfilling its part in the monumental effort under way to save and preserve the environment at Lake Tahoe, Gov. Gray Davis said Friday.

Davis took a short tour of the lake on the University of California, Davis research vessel Friday afternoon and briefly spoke with members of the press afterward.

“I’m here because I care about Lake Tahoe,” he said. “Government needs to (help preserve) the gifts we’ve been given. We’ve been given no greater gift than Lake Tahoe.”



Davis, who took office in January, said ordering the California Department of Transportation to stop all potentially degrading snow-removal activities and allocating more than $20 million to preservation at Tahoe in the state’s recently signed budget are examples of the California’s commitment.

Last winter, Caltrans snow-removal method of “slushing” was the subject of scrutiny, and the water quality control board for the region last month warned the agency that some of the practices could harm the clarity of Lake Tahoe. Davis Friday ordered – “I didn’t ask them; I ordered them,” he made clear at the Tahoe City conference – to stop the longstanding practice of “slushing.”




“They are to cease all activities that create adverse impacts to the lake,” he said.

Additionally, the Nevada Department of Transportation’s snow-removal techniques are much more effective for protecting Lake Tahoe, he said, and California would use its eastern neighbor as an example.

“We ought to be at least as environmentally sensitive to the lake as our neighbors,” he said.

Davis on June 29 signed California’s $81.3 billion state budget, committing more than $20 million to Lake Tahoe’s Environmental Improvement Program, the document that outlines what needs to be done within roughly the next 10 years in order to save the declining clarity of Lake Tahoe.

The EIP roughly divides up the price tag for implementation – $908 million – between federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector. About $275 million of the EIP is supposed to come from California.

“We’re planning to put in $20 million a year,” he said.

Lake Tahoe’s clarity has been declining by more than a foot a year for the last 30 years. The cause is primarily attributed to “nutrient loading.” Whether from sediment from erosion or from air pollution, nitrogen and phosphorous end up in Lake Tahoe. The mixture of the two causes algal growth, and the result is a decline in clarity.

The visibility into Lake Tahoe was more than 100 feet when U.C. Davis started its measurements about 30 years ago. The average 1998 measurement was 66 feet, the second worst year.

U.C. Davis Tahoe Research Group researchers Charles Goldman, Bob Richards and John Reuter explained Lake Tahoe’s situation to the new governor on the John LeConte, the same vessel President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore rode on two years ago. They dropped the boat’s secchi disk – a dinner plate-like disk used since the 1960s to measure the lake’s depth of clarity – into the water. While the portion of the lake there was too shallow and the wind created too much turbidity in the water for a realistic measurement, Davis got the impression.

“When you see first hand how the lake is losing its clarity, you realize how we’re squandering this resource,” he said.

The EIP was adopted in early 1998, but a draft of it was available for review at the time of the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum. At that time, officials urged all of Lake Tahoe researchers, government agencies, business organizations, environmental groups, residents and the state and federal governments to work together to save the lake.

Officials are making significant progress on that front.

“This is a big job. The governor is here, but there are a lot of people involved: state and federal agencies, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the League to Save Lake Tahoe,” Reuter said. “All these folks have to be on the same page, which is happening. I think we can actually do it.”

However, Goldman, who has studied Lake Tahoe for 41 years, said more needs to be done – fast.

“We have to be even better and faster and more efficient, and we have to have science-based information to determine what’s working and what’s not working,” Goldman said.

Said Davis: “I believe if we stay at it and are persistent, we can preserve the clarity of Lake Tahoe.”

breakout

What’s in the budget for Tahoe?

n $2.8 million for the budget of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

n $979,000 for Tahoe Re-Green

n $21 million for the California Tahoe Conservancy which breaks down like this:

-$3 million for the acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands

-$7.9 million for watershed restoration

-$3.8 million for public access and recreation

-$1.9 million for wildlife enhancement

-$350,000 for construction of a bike lane in Tahoe City


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