Residents concerned about lake level’s effects
A seemingly unlikely coalition of environmentalists and property rights advocates are asking the U.S. Department of Interior to consider lowering Lake Tahoe until more research is known about how the lake’s level affects shore erosion.
A petition making the request is supposed to be presented to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt today, said Gregg Lien, an attorney for shoreline property owners. The petition is signed by officials from The University of California, Davis, Tahoe Research Group; two property organizations, the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council and Tahoe Lakefront Owners Association; and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
The petition states: “The undersigned coalition of interests at Lake Tahoe respectfully requests that immediate action be taken to establish an interim management strategy for the Lake Tahoe reservoir that will reduce the likelihood that environmentally damaging erosion will occur until such time as studies are completed … that can conclusively show that the Lake Tahoe environment will not be compromised by the continued operation of the reservoir, and that the water level management strategies implemented will not create additional negative impacts when compared to Lake Tahoe’s natural condition.
“At a minimum, we ask that consideration be given to an interim reduction in lake level until those studies are completed.”
A small dam in Tahoe City feeds the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe. It is the lake’s only outlet. The lake can store up to 744,600 acre-feet of water, enough to supply the cities of Reno and Sparks for a decade.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation last month announced it was taking over operation of the Lake Tahoe Dam, saying it was necessary to guard against legal challenges to the complicated Truckee River Operating Agreement, or TROA. It has been in the works for 10 years and is expected to be completed next year.
TROA is supposed to address how Tahoe’s level affects clarity. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency also has formed a committee to look into shoreline erosion from high water levels.
While Tahoe officials are concerned about erosion, Truckee River water users are concerned about the consequences of changing the level.
To date, little scientific information is known about the level’s effect on erosion and Tahoe’s declining clarity. John Reuter, a scientist for the Tahoe Research Group, said the recently released Draft Lake Tahoe Watershed Assessment gives a rough estimate that shoreline erosion may cause 1 percent of the lake’s total nutrient loading. However, the voluminous document states more research is needed.
Lien said this is not a new issue. However, it is coming to a head now because, with five consecutive wet winters, Tahoe’s level is near its rim.
“In a nut shell, a coalition of property interests combined with members of the environmental community are saying, ‘Hey, we need to know what’s going on. We kind of suspect this is a real source of environmental problems,'” he said.
Said Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League: “We’re just looking for more information – and a cautious approach.”
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