Regulations would change the face of Lake Tahoe boating |

Regulations would change the face of Lake Tahoe boating

Patrick McCartney

Lake Tahoe could become the first location in the United States to prohibit the use of a particular type of marine engine, when the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board today considers prohibiting two-stroke engines by 1999.

Under the ordinance first proposed in February, the TRPA would ban the use of two-stroke engines that rely on carburetors. Because of their design, the engines discharge up to a fourth of their fuel into the water and air, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The next generation of two-stroke engines, which will reduce emissions by three-fourths, would be allowed, but no American company yet manufactures such an engine.

Since proposals to regulate personal watercraft surfaced last year, the boating industry has disputed claims by environmentalists that the popular watercraft present a serious threat to Lake Tahoe’s water quality. An industry researcher told the TRPA’s board in February just 1.5 percent of the unburned fuel remains in the water, and the rest evaporates.

But in an environmental assessment, the bistate agency contends that two-cycle engines discharge an unacceptable amount of hydrocarbons into the lake, and that personal watercraft account for the largest share of the emissions.

“We feel there is enough data in the study … to show that two-stroke engines are the dirtiest engines out there,” said Jerry Wells, the agency’s deputy executive director. The bistate agency’s compact, as well as the EPA’s designation of Lake Tahoe as an Outstanding National Resource Water, requires the agency to prevent further degradation of the lake’s famed clarity, Wells said.

The governing board will consider an alternative ordinance that would exempt small outboard motors used for fishing and as auxiliary engines on sailboats.

At the same time, the board will consider adopting a 600-foot “no-wake” zone around the lake, which would triple the slow-speed zone now in effect. The 600-foot distance was developed two weeks ago during tests by an acoustical engineer at the Timber Cove pier, Wells said.

The consultant measured noise levels on the pier as a succession of different watercraft passed by, including personal watercraft, cigarette-style boats and ski boats. The tests were conducted to determine how far away the boats had to be to not interfere with a conversation between two people three to five feet apart on shore.

And the board will also consider an ordinance that would prohibit any motorized watercraft from operating on Lake Tahoe’s tributaries.

Other proposals that surfaced at the February meeting are still being addressed, but are not part of the ordinance package under consideration today.

A proposed program to require the inspection and proper tuning of boats used at Lake Tahoe’s 6,200-foot elevation will be processed through an ongoing shorezone evaluation. During discussion before the diverse shorezone partnership committee, a number of obstacles were cited that could delay or eliminate the adoption of such a program.

Among the difficulties are the lack of air-quality and water-quality standards for marine engines, logistical problems of who would implement the program and enforce it, and the lack of equipment to test marine engines.

While work on the testing program has stalled, the TRPA has convened a technical advisory committee to help guide the research necessary to examine the effects of marine engines on Lake Tahoe’s water quality.

The group includes the EPA, California and Nevada environmental agencies, the universities of California at Davis and Nevada at Reno, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, U.S. Geological Survey and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

Kevin Hill of the TRPA estimated the agency will have to raise between $200,000 and $300,000 to pay for the recommended studies.

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