Funding Tahoe’s boat inspections should be a top priority | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Funding Tahoe’s boat inspections should be a top priority

Darcie Goodman Collins

Tahoe's boat inspections are again open for business. Inspectors are true heroes in the effort to Keep Tahoe Blue. They decontaminate thousands of boats each summer to ward off new invasive species. The top threats are quagga and zebra mussels, pests that multiply rapidly and have destroyed ecosystems in Eastern lakes and Nevada's own Lake Mead. These invaders are right at our doorstep. A dozen boats a year show up at inspection stations with live mussels. It only takes one contaminated boat to forever alter the Lake Tahoe we know and love.

We recently learned the inspection program faces a $750,000 shortfall next year.

Imagine looking into Tahoe's waters and instead of a white sand bottom seeing a thick mat of mussels. Mussels concentrate nutrients, starve native species of food and grow easily on hard surfaces like pipes, clogging equipment and causing severe economic problems.

Boat inspections are expensive. Tahoe's program costs about $1.5 million per year. But if invasive mussels establish here, addressing the problems they cause would be far more expensive. We can't afford to take this risk. The League to Save Lake Tahoe is working on multiple fronts to ensure this critical program stays in place and is well funded.

The League was the first organization to raise money for invasive species prevention at Lake Tahoe. In 2008, we launched the Lake Tahoe Quagga Mussel Prevention Fund with the Tahoe Lakefront Homeowners Association. We raised $100,000 to help fund the first season of boat inspections and create Tahoe Keepers, a program to train paddlers how to inspect and clean their boats. We're working with our members and partners to strategize on more funding opportunities.

However, it's unrealistic to expect that private funds alone will be able to sustain the boat inspection program. Lake Tahoe is a public resource enjoyed by people across the nation. Since boating on Tahoe is a privilege, raising inspection fees should be considered to ensure this unique experience is preserved for others, including future generations. Alternatively, boat owners could choose to make their vessel "Tahoe only" to avoid repeated inspections and reduce the fees they owe.

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In addition, the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, pending in Congress, could bring $415 million in funding for restoration, scientific research, and wildfire and invasive species prevention, including boat inspections. The League is part of a coalition of science, business, environmental and government groups partnering to promote the Act. You can help by writing to your congressional representatives to express support for the Act.

Finally, community engagement is vital. Early detection and rapid response can save millions of dollars in control efforts. The League's new volunteer program Eyes on the Lake engages recreationists to help map new infestations of aquatic weeds. The program has sparked interest from other communities hoping to protect their own lakes with similar programs. A League representative attended the National Monitoring Conference in April to share our experiences and learn from others. We learned about lakes that have nearly lost the battle to pollutants, chemicals and invasive species. We came home reminded of just what an amazing treasure we have in Lake Tahoe and how much we must protect it. We raised $30,000 last year to tackle invasive species with Eyes on the Lake and we're eager to grow it more. As summer arrives, we'll be busy training new volunteers, including recreation groups like SCUBA clubs. Contact us to get involved.

Keeping invasive species out of Tahoe is essential to keeping it blue. Inspections are a small price to pay to keep a national resource like Lake Tahoe pristine. Funding this program should be one of the Tahoe Basin's highest priorities.