Record money pours into Tahoe restoration | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Record money pours into Tahoe restoration

Gregory Crofton

Whether they know it or not, Californians just reached into their pockets and handed a huge wad of cash to Lake Tahoe.

The state budget this year provides a record amount, nearly $34 million, for environmental restoration work at Tahoe. Last year taxpayers provided nearly $29 million.

The money, aimed at repairing damage to the basin related to clarity of Tahoe’s water, will be split between the California Tahoe Conservancy, Caltrans and California State Parks for projects that improve water quality for Tahoe.

The funding is available from voter-approved Proposition 40 and Proposition 50, the Tahoe license plate fund, the state general fund and special transportation funding, which includes a gasoline tax, said Dennis Machida, executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy.

Proposition 40 is a $2.6 billion bond initiative that passed in March 2002 called the “California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks and Coastal Protection Act.” Proposition 50, called the “Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002,” was approved by voters in November 2002.

The state of California in 1998 promised to provide $275 million over 10 years to fund the Environmental Improvement Program. The program, which developed out of the Lake Tahoe Presidential Summit of 1997, identified hundreds of restoration projects with a total cost of $908 million. Including the money from this year’s budget, California has allocated more than $252 million to protect the lake.

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“Just because there was a change in administration in Sacramento, it doesn’t mean the support has changed,” said the Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman. “Tahoe is a very high priority.”

Nevada has provided $55 million of the $82 million required for its share of the EIP through the Tahoe Bond acts of 1986 and 1996. The Nevada Legislature meets every two years with its next session set to begin in February. In its previous two sessions, the Legislature provided for Tahoe $16.2 million and $9.8 million respectively.

“The executive budget is just being developed,” said Pam Wilcox, administrator of Nevada Division of State Lands, who indicated that the amount proposed for the budget will be decided by December.

The federal government’s portion of the EIP is $297 million. To date, the eight federal agencies that do work in the basin have pumped $165 million into projects for the lake. That doesn’t include the $37 million approved last week by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.

It was the first installment of $300 million promised to the lake over eight years through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, a program that generates revenue for the federal government through the sale of urban lots around Las Vegas. This guaranteed revenue stream for Lake Tahoe, made possible through legislative amendment drafted by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., will allow the federal government to exceed its EIP commitment, but more importantly, many believe it will allow for more consistent project planning.

“It’s not a Republican issue, not a Democrat issue – it’s a Nevada issue, it’s a California issue, it’s a national issue,” said Ensign, who spoke about the work to protect Lake Tahoe last week on the North Shore. “I want to continue to stress that the money is precious. It is not be used for anybody’s special projects.”

The rest of the EIP is to be funded with $152 million from the private sector and $101 million from local government. The only numbers available date back to 2002 when local governments had contributed $40 million to the program, mostly with fees meant to compensate for the impacts of building on the environment.

Private and commercial parties had spent $41 million, mostly on required environmental improvements that are meant to stabilize soil and keep it from getting into the lake and clouding the water.