No easy answers for Keys invasive weeds, just tough choices (Opinion)
Editor’s note: This guest opinion is a response to an opinion column from Carolyn Willette of the Sierra Club published in the Aug. 7 edition of the Tribune.
Full disclosure, I’m a Tahoe Keys resident and also an environmentalist. My wife and I have supported the Sierra Club amongst other environmental organizations.
I’m a little saddened by the opinion piece published in the Aug. 8 edition of the Tribune where you paint an extreme position that any herbicides are bad and the Keys is an ecological disaster. Personally, the only thing I’ve found at the extremes is polarization, certainly not solutions.
Your proposal to restore the Keys to its natural habitat is a tad ludicrous, in my humble opinion. I’d roughly estimate that we’re talking about $1.5 to $2 billion in real estate … if you could find a donor willing to buy up all the properties then maybe it’d be possible, but that doesn’t seem too realistic, does it? Or are you suggesting that 1,500-plus homeowners should just be stripped of their properties? That doesn’t sound fair.
So to slam the use of herbicides yet provide no realistic alternative hardly furthers the cause of actually dealing with this infestation.
As you say, the Environmental Protection Agency classifies our lake as a “Tier-3 Outstanding Natural Resource Water that cannot be degraded” … I’d argue that by not using herbicides and letting the weeds continue as-is is much more likely to do damage. I’d be happy to give you a tour of our channels to show you the extent of the problem.
You state that “taxpayers will pay tens of millions of dollars for a treatment that will never work” is blatantly false. To date the cost of the management and control of the weeds in the Keys has been born by the homeowners of the Keys (over $3.3M so far) with small occasional grants ($100k to fund our bubble curtain, for example). Only recently did any outside agency step in to help address the issue and that was the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that secured a grant to fund their report.
You state that “lake’s fabled clarity declined by more than 8 feet in 2019,” yet fail to mention that the lake’s clarity varies significantly year-over-year depending on the amount of run-off and the turnover of the lake … trying to pin this decline of the Keys is facile. The Keys have been in place for over 50 years and since the early 70s great steps have been made to improve the lake’s clarity with great success. The Keys didn’t change during this time, so clearly we can continue to improve the lake through other measures.
I’m sorry that you don’t like the fact that the Keys was developed 50-plus years ago. I agree with you that if it was today, it would never get approved. But the reality is that it did, it is here and will be here for the next 50-plus years. So it’s better to accept this reality and work with all agencies and bodies to tackle the issue at hand … which is eradicating invasive species from our lake, and like it or not, the Keys is hotspot No. 1.
I’d prefer to leverage the best science we have and not stick our heads in the sand and hope the Keys goes away some time. If you have a realistic and practical approach to dealing with this infestation that avoids herbicides I’m pretty sure the TRPA, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and Keys homeowners would be all ears. But until then, the best science we have says that using herbicides in a controlled and limited manner is the only way to knock back the infestation to a point where it can be controlled by non-herbicide means.
Contrary to what you say that the “use of dangerous chemicals will be necessary in perpetuity,” the TRPA report is quite clear, the use of herbicides is a one-off treatment to bring the weeds to a level they can be controlled akin to how we’ve tackled them in Emerald Bay and marinas around the lake.
The TRPA report is part of the process to allow very limited and heavily controlled testing of herbicides in the Keys to even see if they are effective within our channels. If we don’t allow this test to happen then at present there is no other method that has been proven to work at the scale of the Keys. In which case the methods we currently use to harvest the weeds will continue as we have done for past decades and the weed issue will continue to escalate and threaten our lake.
I agree with you that “now is our chance to demand long-term solutions that actually benefit the health, beauty, and water quality of the lake, as well as everyone who lives in and visits the Tahoe basin, not just the boating homeowners of the Keys.”
It’s just we disagree on approach. In my humble opinion, use of herbicides to knock back our weeds is the long-term solution that’ll benefit the health, beauty, and water quality of the lake. Anything else is quite frankly irresponsible and likely to be detrimental to the lake’s health — unless of course, you have a spare $2 billion lying around?
Keiron McCammon is a South Lake Tahoe resident and lives in the Tahoe Keys.
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