Save the lake, stop building, group says
A California environmental lobbying group called on Lake Tahoe’s regulators Thursday to reign in development and reduce air pollution in order to address Lake Tahoe’s declining clarity.
The Los Angeles-based Environment California Research and Policy Center issued a report outlining ways to clean up the state’s “most polluted” waterways, as required by the Clean Water Act.
Lake Tahoe’s waters consistently exceed healthy drinking water standards, but what many call the jewel of the Sierra is listed as an “impaired” water body because it is not meeting clarity standards.
Last year, scientists could see on average 74 feet below the lake’s surface, 23 feet short of standards under the Clean Water Act. Historical accounts indicate the lake was once crystal clear for more than 100 feet below its surface.
“We are arguing that the local water boards already have authority to put in strong programs to clean up these waterways,” said the report’s author Sujatha Jahagirdar. “This report argues they should exercise that authority.”
Jahagirdar said while Lahontan Water Board leads the pack in California, “the problem with Lake Tahoe hasn’t been solved.”
Lahontan, which regulates water quality on the California side of Tahoe, is being as aggressive as possible with the staff it has, said division manager Lauri Kemper.
Scientists are just starting to understand how much of an impact air pollution has on water quality, she said.
Studies have shown more than half of the nitrogen that is fueling algae growth in Lake Tahoe comes from air pollution. Other particles are also washed from the air during rain and snowstorms.
The water board is compiling data and forming computer models that will help it understand just how much pollution the lake can handle. That process is known as the Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.
As cumbersome as it sounds, TMDL is the latest buzzword for those involved in Tahoe’s planning because it could ultimately define which solutions are best for addressing pollution going into the lake.
“A lot of people are focused on TMDLs and the choices we are going to have to make to restore clarity,” said John Friedrich, program manager for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “All the science is saying we need to reduce fine sediment. Those reductions are going to have to come from somewhere.”
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which regulates development at Tahoe, must establish air quality standards for the region.
“When we see those models coming out of the TMDL, that’s going to enable us to make better choices,” said spokeswoman Julie Regan.
In addition to requiring cleaner-burning wood stoves, the agency is focusing on ways to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation as a way to combat air pollution, she said.
The policy center’s report recommends “banning expanded lakeshore development that will increase stormwater pollution.” The center is not pursuing any specific legislation, Jahagirdar said. The report has the support of California Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, according to his chief of staff Sandra Debourelando.
Kemper didn’t agree with that stance.
The amount of developable land in Tahoe is diminishing fast, she said. Property owners must already follow strict rules on how much of their land they may build on, when they can build and what types of soils can be built on.
“We would look more at controlling and treating stormwater runoff from that type of development,” Kemper said.
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