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Lahontan to create Tahoe unit

Patrick McCartney

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is revamping its operational structure and will create a unit that works exclusively on the Lake Tahoe watershed.

With the reorganization, Lahontan will eliminate its two divisions instead assigning scientists, geologists and engineers to watershed areas, said Lauri Kemper, who will head the Tahoe unit.

“The watershed concept is the new strategy to follow,” Kemper said. “Before, some people worked on separate tasks, like sewage, grazing and so forth, but not in the same area. This will bring all the concerns together and analyze them in terms of a watershed.”

One of nine regional boards in California, Lahontan oversees water-quality issues from Lake Arrowhead to the Oregon border. In addition to the new Tahoe unit, the board is also creating a Northern Watershed and Southern Watershed units.

Ranjit Gill, who headed the planning and toxics division, will now oversee Southern Watersheds, while former enforcement chief John Short takes over the reins of Northern Watersheds.

Harold Singer, Lahontan’s executive officer, said the Tahoe unit will be able to coordinate the state agency’s varied roles in the basin.

“This new unit will provide improved coordination of our effort in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” Singer said. “It will allow us to focus on the highest priority water quality threats in the basin, such as stormwater runoff carrying nutrients from roadways and development on U.S. Forest Service lands and private property, sewage spills that add nutrients to the lake, petroleum and solvents that have polluted the groundwater, and construction projects that would unnecessarily destroy needed stream environment zones.”

While not the intent of the change, Kemper said the Tahoe watershed unit may address some of the criticism that two Tahoe Basin utility districts, including the South Tahoe Public Utility District, have leveled at the regulatory agency.

“It will help us set more priorities and be more effective,” Kemper said.

Bob Baer, executive director of the South Tahoe district, said the district is curious to see if the reorganization will make the regulator more responsive to the district’s concerns.

“We’ll take a wait-and-see approach,” Baer said. “I think the focus on the basin and watersheds is a good thing.”

Under the supervision of Kemper, the Lake Tahoe unit will concentrate on the cleanup of groundwater contamination, the allocation of $2 million for water quality improvement projects, studying the impact on water quality from motorized watercraft, improving the Upper Truckee River watershed, supporting homeowners in private watershed improvements and helping highway departments with needed projects.

Kemper is a civil engineer who has been with the regional board for 13 years in various positions. Last year, the California Environmental Protection Agency gave her its Excellence in Environmental Enforcement Award.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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