Round 6 boosts water projects |

Round 6 boosts water projects

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune file/ Erosion from housing and business development, and runoff from severe storms, funnel into Lake Tahoe from the basin's streams.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act Round 6 funds and how nearly $40 million will be spent in the basin not on land acquisition, but on fire fuels reduction and land and water quality projects over the next several years. This will be the biggest infusion of money for restoration in the basin’s history.

It may not look like it, but the basin’s stream and waterways are in a constant state of peril, some environmentalists have said.

Erosion from rampant housing and business development, runoff from severe storms and even silt and ash from helpful controlled burns all eventually funnel from every creek and stream into the lake.

“The watershed is like a bloodstream for the lake,” said League to Save Lake Tahoe executive director Rochelle Nason. “We need to be sure what is going in (the lake) is what should be going in.”

This is not new news. The word, however, that is making waves in both government agency and environmentalist circles is “restoration” – a concept relatively new to a region built around tourism, commerce and recreation. Some contend restoration has largely been ignored or skipped over in planning development of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Some $5.7 million of Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act Round 6 funds will be spent on 16 watershed restoration projects – all but one on U.S. Forest Service lands. To put it in perspective, only one watershed project was funded with Round 5 carry-over funds.

While many of the projects are simply funded to start monitoring efforts, it is the fact that they are happening in the first place that strikes some.

“It is important because everything we do is manifested through watershed,” said Megan Suarez, watersheds program coordinator for the Sierra Nevada Alliance. “Basically we’ve over-developed the land here and have to restore our filtration processes. All funding is important especially with assessment.”

One such project funded in Round 6 is the upper Truckee River watershed/ecosystem restoration.

Some $350,000 will be earmarked to develop planning, restoration designs and just general assessment of the ecosystem. Upon completion of the assessment, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the Forest Service will start a planning process that will implement selected projects to restore natural physical and biological processes that sustain healthy ecosystem function in the Upper Truckee watershed.

While several hundred thousand dollars sounds like a lot, some feel that’s just the beginning.

“One of the major landholders (near the Upper Truckee) is California State Parks,” Sierra Nevada Alliance’s Suarez said. “You can assess to every small detail. The question is what they’re assessing?”

“(The Forest Service) needs to address hydrologic function, but when you’re doing large assessment it might or might not be a priority,” she said.

Forest Service officials said the comprehensive restoration project of Round 6 will be at Barker Pass Road Crossing in South Lake Tahoe.

Blackwood Creek, which runs 2.5 miles upstream from Barker Pass road and State Route 89, has been identified as having some of the highest sediment delivery rates in the basin.

A bridge will be installed to replace a low-slung crossing that has caused flood plain deterioration throughout the Blackwood Valley – Forest Service staff said the bridge along with channel restoration will eventually enable that portion of Blackwood Creek to “function naturally.”

The Blackwood Creek project is slated to cost some $2.7 million.

While SNPLMA funds can only help the Nevada side, and all projects must meet the approval of Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, some remain concerned that watershed restoration projects outside the basin are not getting the kind of funding they need.

“There is definitely more money coming into the basin. I can’t say that for anywhere else in the Sierra,” Suarez said. “We get ridiculous amounts of visitors in the basin and many groups are really good about getting their names out there. So I think Tahoe’s just very visible.

“We’ve got a giant lake and you can see the change in clarity, but 23 out of 24 major bodies of water in the Sierra are impaired. People are finally starting to look at the whole region, but it’s not as comprehensive as it needs to be.”

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