Lake Tahoe marina remains closed after 15-plus years of violations
July 20, 2016
MEEKS BAY, Calif. — Another Memorial Day came and went this year, but the marina at Meeks Bay Resort didn't open for a third straight season — this time due to a high concentration of pollutants, an issue that apparently has been a concern for more than a decade.
The West Shore marina has remained closed during previous summers because of low water levels attributed to the western drought.
But this year, marina operators may face penalties from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board after water samples showed high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and iron, among other things.
Though there is an allowable limit for each of these, they can cause problems in high enough concentrations — and every item tested in the marina's stormwater runoff sample exceeded the allowable limit, according to a report from the water board.
"There's no definitive answer to what causes it," Eric Taxer, a water resources control engineer at the Lahontan water board, told the Sierra Sun last week. "The metals could be coming from cars. We know that sediment typically contains nutrients (like nitrogen and phosphorus)."
When it rains, water runs off the ground and eventually finds its way into the watershed. That water runs along the ground and picks up pollutants, which eventually find their way into the lake.
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WELL ABOVE THE LEGAL LIMIT
Businesses like the marina are required by law to collect samples of stormwater runoff for analysis. The regional water board, in this case Lahontan, is responsible for monitoring what's in those samples and making sure businesses and land owners take steps to limit pollution that runs off their property and into the lake.
According to the water board, the marina's limits are 0.5 milligrams per liter of nitrogen, 0.1 milligrams per liter of phosphorus and 0.5 milligrams per liter of iron.
However, concentration levels found in the marina's most recent sample were 2.1 milligrams per liter of nitrogen, 0.7 milligrams per liter of phosphorus and 14 milligrams per liter of iron.
The limit for total suspended solids (which is debris that can be caught with a filter) is 100 milligrams per liter, but the level found at the marina was 440 milligrams per liter.
Finally, the cutoff for aluminum is 0.75 milligrams per liter, but the lab results showed a concentration of 14 milligrams per liter.
"Iron could spur algae growth, along with nutrients," said Taxer.
He said pollutants in the lake can affect its water clarity, but he wasn't sure if they're harmful to humans or wildlife in the levels they've been found.
"What we don't have is how much discharge came from that event," said Taxer.
In other words, a storm event that resulted in a lot of runoff with a very high concentration of nutrients, for example, would be more alarming than a small amount of runoff with the same concentration.
Meeks Bay Resort remains open as usual despite the marina's closure. And though the marina is currently marked off with caution tape, visitors can still be seen walking and riding bikes along the boat slips.
'IT'S GOING TO COST SOME MONEY'
Meeks Bay Resort and Marina — located at 7941 Emerald Bay Road — has multiple stakeholders. The U.S. Forest Service owns the land, and the Washoe Tribe has a contract that allows it to operate the resort and marina.
Action Watersports of Tahoe, the private South Lake Tahoe-based company that operates the marina, is listed on the water board's reports as the party responsible for collecting stormwater discharge samples.
All three parties were listed on the notices of violation.
Washoe Tribe Councilman Neil Mortimer and Action Watersports owner Bob Hassett did not respond to the Sun's multiple requests for comment on this story.
"We can't shut anyone down," Lahontan Water Board Supervisor Catherine Poole said in a recent interview. "We can fine them, but I don't even think we have the authority to shut anyone down."
Poole said the Washoe Tribe told the water board they would fix the problem by paving the parking lot, but that never happened.
Taxer said that although the maximum fine the water board can charge is $10,000 per day per violation, the board as of late last week hadn't decided yet what the penalty will be for the marina.
He said the board looks at things like potential harm in determining whether to fine a business and how large that fine should be.
"It's going to cost some money. There are other issues that go beyond paving," said USFS Planning Officer Michael LeFevre, adding that while the problems at Meeks Bay are obvious, he wouldn't go into detail.
SEEKING A SOLUTION
Water board documents obtained by the Sierra Sun suggest problems at Meeks Bay marina have existed for at least 15 years.
A notice of violation from the water board in July 2014 noted that, " … prior versions of the SWPPP (Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan) contained the requirement to pave the parking lot and install appropriate storm water BMPs (best management practices). This requirement was contained in SWPPPs dated November 15, 2000; March 17, 2006; and April 15, 2008. Therefore, permit violations for failing to install the necessary BMPs potentially date back to November, 2000 …"
What the issue boils down to is that there is nothing at the marina's property preventing sediment from falling from the dirt parking lot into Lake Tahoe, according to the water board.
Last week, beer cans, plastic bags and even watermelon rinds could be seen in the bay's shallow water.
LeFevre said the decision to close the marina was made voluntarily by the Tribe and the Forest Service, and that it will remain closed until they can come up with a solution. He also said that any proposed solution would be subject to public review.
"Our engineering staff and the Tribe have looked at this closely … the situation is complicated." LeFevre said. "We're not entirely sure that paving the parking lot would take care of the problem."
LeFevre said the Forest Service and Tribe had taken temporary measures to reduce pollutants, including installing small dikes and putting down sandbags as well as fiber rolls.
Still, the notice of violation from the water board points out that the fiber rolls have not been correctly installed or maintained.
Visit meeksbayresort.com to learn more about Meeks Bay Resort and Marina. Visit waterboards.ca.gov/lahontan to learn more about the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.