Keys drudging behind schedule |

Keys drudging behind schedule

Sucking dark, watery dirt from the channel that leads to the Tahoe Keys took twice as long as expected.

The work, needed so larger boats can get into the Keys, has taken a month instead of two weeks to accomplish. The delay occurred because water drained from the dirt took longer to treat than estimated, said Sandy Jack of Geotechnical Support Service, the group conducting the dredge work.

Environmental protection agencies require high standards for the water because it is pumped into a meadow next to the Upper Truckee River and Lake Tahoe.

The dredging, done by suction, is expected to wrap up Thursday. In all, 7,900 cubic yards of fill will be removed from the channel. It will be trucked out of the Lake Tahoe Basin or used for pavement.

The water that separates from the dirt is gradually cleaned by making its way through four holding ponds. The ponds are squeezed onto a sliver of land between Venice Drive and a boat storage yard.

In each pond, mesh bags filled with crushed crab shells, a new technology, treat the water by absorbing nutrients, phosphates and other organic material. The crab shells material took longer than expected to work, more than 24 hours, but still were essential for the job.

“Without that stuff, we would have been dead ducks,” said Richard Horton, a co-owner of Tahoe Keys Marina, which is covering half the cost of the $500,000 project.

Tahoe Keys Property Owners’ Association and the Tahoe Beach and Harbor Association, which also use the 1,600-foot channel, will pay the rest of the bill.

The treated water is tested extensively before it gets pumped from a pond through pipes braced above Venice Drive and into a meadow owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy.

“It’s been a bear,” said Horton, of the dredging, which is expected to last 10 to 15 years. “It’s been kind of a tough one, but we’ve gotten through it.”

The water flowing into the meadow has passed all environment tests. Water samples taken from the Upper Truckee, which flows next to the meadow, have not turned up any contamination.

“Everything has worked perfectly,” said Jack, who has been working round-the-clock for a month taking water samples and overseeing the work. “But it’s been a tremendous amount of work.”

The channel was last dredged in 1992, when environmental standards for dredging in Lake Tahoe were not as strict as they are today. In 1992, environmental protection agencies allowed water to be separated from dredged dirt and pumped into the lake without extensive treatment.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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