Editorial: $48 million dollars to keep Tahoe blue
While Lake Tahoe’s clarity is holding steady at around 73 feet, according to the latest measurements released this week, there is another reason to hope for its improvement in the coming years.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne signed off on more than $48 million in improvement projects to benefit Tahoe’s environment at a summit held Thursday at Sand Harbor. The move bolsters the federal government’s commitment- which has now bridged two presidential administrations – to funding programs that “Keep Tahoe Blue.”
The money is essentially this year’s portion of a $300 million dollar commitment made when President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore came to Tahoe as part of the first Tahoe Summit in 1997. At that event, the president signed a bill that provides funding funneled from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act into Lake Tahoe restoration. And, even in a short nine-year time span, clarity in Lake Tahoe has improved.
Testing for calendar year 2005 – the statistics were released this week – found average clarity at about 72.4 feet, a slight drop from the average in 2004 of 73.6 feet, but still an encouraging number. It is a marked improvement from 1997 when scientists from UC Davis found average clarity to be just 64 feet, an all-time low since measurements were started in 1968.
While the floods of 1997 are believed to have had some degrading effect on lake clarity, it is the effect of nutrients and sediment runoff into the lake that is believed to be the biggest culprit. Clarity measured 102.4 feet when record keeping began.
Money directed toward lake environmental improvement has resulted in dozens of projects designed, in large part, to prevent soil erosion and nutrients from entering the lake’s pristine waters. These have included water diversion efforts and stream restoration projects. Combined with a ban on 2-stroke motors, and the required construction of other Best Management Practices on public and private land, the Tahoe approach to environmental rehabilitation is apparently achieving the goal of improved clarity.
Officials hope that as more money pours into these projects, and residents and property owners do their parts, clarity can reach historic levels over 100 feet. If Thursday’s summit is any indication, we are one step closer to achieving that goal.