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More studies for building laws

Patrick McCartney

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency staff Wednesday said scientific studies conducted at Lake Tahoe support a ban on two-stroke engines. Phasing out the power units was approved last year.

Staff reviewed studies made last year, and concluded that Lake Tahoe’s altitude increased the toxic effects of gasoline contamination. Restrictions on two-stroke engines would start in 1999.

“I think we made the right decision in focusing on bad-technology watercraft,” said Gabby Barrett, the agency’s head of long-range planning. “I don’t see any findings that would suggest we should ban all boats, but in light of the research, the TRPA action is starting to make more sense.”

The phaseout approved last June singled out two-stroke engines, such as those in Kawasaki Jet Skis and other personal watercraft, because the engine discharges a fourth or more of its fuel unburned.

Jim Baetge, the agency’s executive director, said the studies by university and government researchers have justified the agency’s concern.

“We’ve learned so much more than what we knew then, and from what we’ve learned so far there is a significant impact on water quality that we will have to address,” Baetge said.

Marine engine manufacturers have joined Lake Tahoe boat rental firms and individual boaters in a lawsuit challenging the phaseout. A trial has been scheduled next spring.

Barrett briefed the governing board about the scope of this year’s research. As much as $500,000 will be spent on studies by the U.S. Geological Service, the University of California at Davis’ Tahoe Research Group, the University of Nevada-Reno, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Air Resources Board.

“Significant resources are being put into this, especially by the U.S.G.S. and the state of California,” Barrett said. “The scientists are serious academic researchers, and are not interested in taking one side or the other” in the pending litigation.

On Tuesday, the owners of Lake Tahoe’s 10 marinas agreed to shift their financial support away from monitoring water quality inside the marinas and into the research projects, he announced.

“They are just as concerned about the lake and getting accurate data as anyone else,” Barrett said.

The new player in this year’s research program is California’s Air Resources Board, which will assign a team of a dozen employees to conduct tank tests of marine engine emissions. Because of increasing awareness of emissions from marine engines, the State Water Resources Board will not allow the researchers to dispose of the water from the tank tests down a storm drain, Barrett said.

“The state of California has come around dramatically in the last year,” he added.

Other research will dovetail with the state study.

The U.S. Geological Service will look for a wide array of gasoline-related compounds in Lake Tahoe, Echo Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake. The Tahoe Research Group already started testing for the gasoline additive MTBE in Lake Tahoe, including a search in the lake’s deepest water.

And the University of Nevada-Reno’s Glenn Miller will conduct emission tests at Lake Tahoe, and has expanded his research to include the hydrocarbon compound implicated in a toxics test last summer by a University of Miami in Ohio researcher.

In that study, James Oris found that ultraviolet radiation, enhanced by the thin atmosphere at Lake Tahoe’s 6,223-foot elevation, increases the toxic effect of compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on fish larvae and zooplankton.

“It’s amazing the teamwork that is going on,” Barrett said about this year’s planned studies. “Everybody has their piece of the pie.”

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

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