Projects improving the South Lake Tahoe environment

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif.—Partners of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program provided a webinar update on multiple projects improving South Lake’s environment on Wednesday night, Oct. 18.

The environmental webinar was open to anyone who wanted to attend and learn how the EIP is working to prepare the region for climate resilience and restore the environment from previous threats.

“Tahoe has faced many environmental threats over the years,” said Victoria Ortiz, Community Engagement Manager for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, “We have contended with historical logging, development, and grazing, which all caused Tahoe’s famous clarity to plummet over the years.”

Tackling invasive species

The most recent looming threat comes in a small package. The Tahoe Resource Conservation District says they’re working to get a jump on the rice sized New Zealand mudsnails discovered last month. Their initial response involved sizing up the invasion with diver surveys on transects of the lake.

New Zealand mudsnails discovered in Lake Tahoe by divers last month. Provided / Marine Taxonomic Services
NZ Mudsnail Lake Tahoe sand particles size variation_Credit – MTS (2)

The results show the extent of the infestation is in a three mile stretch between the Tahoe Keys and Ski Run Boulevard, at least for now.

“Survey efforts are still ongoing to further delineate that,” said Sara Matthews, Aquatic Invasive Species Control Coordinator for TRCD.

Matthews says they are still in the information gathering phase and determining if these snails will have the negative impact seen in other infested waters around the west. These include outcompeting native species and impacting the food chain, something their hardiness and rapid reproduction allows. They also don’t have many natural predators here, which allows them to gain the advantage quickly.

As far as keeping them from spreading, the public will play a huge role. The TRCD as well as the League to Save Lake Tahoe have three words for the public— “clean, drain, dry.” This is the best way to keep the snails from spreading by any type of water equipment, from fishing gear to paddle boards. Even beach toys can pose a risk.

The league has implemented a machine on Tahoe beaches to help with this effort. The CD3 is a mobile unit that cleans, drains, and dries non-motorized watercraft like kayaks and paddle boards. They’re working on putting these machines at popular paddle board and kayak recreation spots.

The CD3 isn’t the only machine fighting invasive species in Tahoe.

“The PixieDrone is like an aquatic Roomba, essentially” said Senior Science Policy Analyst Laura Patten for the league, “and it can eat up to ten gallons of weeds at a time.”

This is beneficial for areas like the Tahoe Keys where aquatic weeds infest more than 90% of the lagoon, according to Patten.

Another area where invasive weeds run rampant is the area of Tallac and Taylor Creek. Forestry biologist Sarah Muskopf says the restoration project there spans 2,600 acres. Their focus recently has been on Kiva Beach.

They’ve laid the equivalent of blackout curtains on the water floor to deprive the Eurasian watermilfoil of sunlight. These benthic barriers will do their job until 2027. You may have noticed the signs they’ve put up notifying the public of the under water tarp-like floor.

Muskopf says these will help keep the weeds from affecting the water clarity, but for their efforts to be affective, “public support and outreach is crucial.”

Any resident can join the multi-agency fight against invasive species with their “Citizen Science” initiative. The league calls it “Eyes on the Lake.” Their app allows anyone enjoying the region to report invasive species and litter.

It’s paying off. The league says this has already prevented almost 10 infestations so far.

Plastic invasion

Lake invaders aren’t just biological, some make a crinkly sound with a bottle cap.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe says of the majority of the over 74,000 pounds of trash that they’ve cleaned off beaches were plastic. According the league, plastic doesn’t break down. It disintegrates into tinier and tinier pieces called microplastics that can negatively impact the environment and our health in the long run.

Also known as “Keep Tahoe Blue,” the league has multiple trash clean up events throughout the year, including the “Keep Tahoe Red, White, and Blue” event after each Fourth of July. Community members can also join a Tahoe Blue Crew and pledge to clean up an adopted spot three times a year.

These volunteer efforts tackle trash above ground, but litter doesn’t stop there. Pounds of litter are below the sand on Tahoe beaches, the league says. They leave this job to Bebot, a beach sifting robot that goes four inches below the sand. According to the league, it’s “the last line of defense in the battle against our microplastics problem in Lake Tahoe.”

Chevallier and Harris walking behind the robot “Bebot” as it moves down the beach. Laney Griffo/ Tahoe Daily Tribune
Laney Griffo/ Tahoe Daily Tribune

Conservation and forest health

A part of preserving the region is setting aside parcels for none other than Lake Tahoe itself. The California Tahoe Conservancy acquired 4,700 open space lots in the early nineties and about 3,000 of those acres are located in the El Dorado and south shore region.

Many of these parcels are pocketed between privately owned parcels and neighborhoods throughout the lake. Their job is to curb over development.

Community Forestry Program Supervisor Milan Yeates says the conservancy is currently doing fuel reduction projects on these spaces in North Upper Truckee, the Tahoe Keys, and Gardner mountain area. This reduces wildfire risk and improves wildlife habitat, keeping forests healthy. They’re planning similar projects next year for the Al Tahoe and Sierra Tract areas.

He says while they aren’t doing any prescribed burns this year in South Lake, other agencies are. You can look at the Tahoe Living with Fire website for current burns going on.

Sustainable recreation and transportation

TRPA says there are 26.4 miles of pedestrian and cyclist pathways in El Dorado Country and another 48.3 in South Lake Tahoe. They hope to increase those numbers with multiple projects in the works.

The San Bernardino Class 1 Bike Trail Project will connect cyclists and pedestrians in the North Upper Truckee neighborhood to Meyers, hopefully by the end of this year. That’s when Senior Civil Engineer for El Dorado County, Donaldo Palaroan, says construction should be complete.

Another bike and walking path will connect the Johnson and Al Tahoe boulevards to the CTC Greenway Trail Phase 1B. The over half mile connector would reduce conflicts between disc golfers and other park users. The City of South Lake Tahoe said they are currently getting more public feedback before going forward. They did not mention when construction would begin.

Other plans include work to extend the Dennis T. Machida Memorial Greenway south over the Truckee River towards Barton Memorial Hospital. It includes a new Upper Truckee River bridge with an additional 1.2 miles of path near Johnson Meadow. El Dorado County says they’re currently in the planning phase, and intend to start construction in May 2025.  

The City of South Lake Tahoe wants to eventually connect the Tahoe Sierra neighborhood to the Van Sickle Bi-State Park via the Dennis T. Machida Greenway, but will do so in phases. The current phase is the 1C segment. It will connect Herbert Avenue to Ski Run Boulevard. The city says it is currently in the planning stages with no funding yet for the final design or construction.

A few street are getting attention too. One of them is Apache Avenue with pedestrian and connectivity upgrades. El Dorado County plans on making almost one mile of the road a “complete street” with rolled curbs, gutters, drainage systems and a shared used pathway, along with sidewalks and bike lanes. Construction begins in May and residents should have a complete street by October of next year.

The City of South Lake says they plan on also having a complete streets project on Pioneer Trail. Residents can expect continued sidewalks with lighting, transit stops and bike lanes from Larch Avenue to Ski Run Boulevard. The city hopes to start construction next year.

But that’s not all for Pioneer Trail. El Dorado County has plans to put a roundabout at the intersection located at U.S. Highway 50. The project also comes with improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as environmental and safety benefits. Construction is set to start in May with hopes of having the intersection complete by the end of October next year.

The EIP has their entire list of projects on their website and the webinar on the TRPA Vimeo profile.

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