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Sluggish funding doesn’t slow environmentalists

Despite a sluggish funding stream from the federal government, a $908 million plan to rescue the Lake Tahoe Basin from impending environmental impacts is moving along, administrators said Friday as they cruised along in a motor boat on Lake Tahoe’s clear and threatened waters.

“We are here because Lake Tahoe is in trouble – we are facing a crisis,” said Dennis Machida, executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy. “We’re rapidly losing the resource values that make Tahoe unique.”

Declining water clarity, dying trees, trampled lands and threatened wildlife species are environmental flaws facing the third largest alpine lake in the world, Machida said. But the situation is not hopeless.



The Environmental Improvement Plan, administered by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, outlines a list of environmental projects that scientists hope will reverse, or at least stop, the doomed scenario.

Water quality improvements through erosion control measures and wetlands restoration rank at the top of the EIP list. Forest health, wildlife habitat and scenic improvements are also slated as projects.




Paying for and implementing those improvements are a mix local, state and federal government agencies. The private sector – businesses and homeowners – is also picking up a portion of the bill.

Three years into the plan, which was reviewed at the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe and approved by the TRPA in the same year, the tally shows federal promises lagging behind.

The federal government, which is tagged to contribute the largest amount at $297.2 million to the total $908 million price tag, has to date spent about $50 million on EIP projects, according to Carl Hasty, TRPA’s coordinator for the EIP.

Environmental advocates say that’s not enough.

“We feel they are making significant progress in this year’s appropriations process, as much as doubling the amount, but that’s still a little shy of where we need to be,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act is going to be a key part of this and it seems to have overcome its most serious obstacles.”

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, passed by both House and Senate committees this year, would bring $10 million each year for the next 10 years for environmental projects at Lake Tahoe. But it still needs approval by both congressional floors.

Meanwhile, California, which is expected to bring $275.1 million to the plan, has committed the most funds to date, spending about $159 million in environmental projects over the last three years. Nevada has appropriated $24 million of their $82 million commitment. Local governments also have spent about $24 million on their $101 million bill. The private sector has made about $18 million in improvements from their expected $152.7 million commitment.

Together, the already spent dollars total about 40 percent of the required $908 million to keep Tahoe clean.

“We’ve got the plan and we’re down the road on funding, that means we’re at the beginning stages of implementation,” said John Marshall, TRPA’s acting executive director. “And that’s the hard work – reducing that plan to on-the-ground improvements.”

In some jurisdictions, the plan is well on its way to fruition.

Transportation departments from California and Nevada are currently working on erosion control projects along Lake Tahoe Basin’s highways. Forest health procedures, with tree thinning projects and prescribed burns, are being pursued by the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin unit. The Tahoe Conservancy has focused its efforts on restoration through land acquisitions, notably the recent purchase of 311 acres of wetlands in the Truckee Marsh, Lake Tahoe’s largest and most disturbed watershed.

In addition to the $908 million capital improvement plan, an $11 million research fund is also outlined in the EIP. Part of that financial pool will fund a study at University of California, Davis that will determine which pollutants are most threatening to Lake Tahoe’s remarkable water clarity, which has been declining at the rate of more than a foot each year for the last 30 years.

BREAK IT DOWN:

The Environmental Improvement Plan calls for $908 million in environmental improvement and restoration projects to be completed by 2007. The total project cost is divvied up between federal, state and local governments and the private sector.

Total Project cost: $908 million

Federal contribution: $297.2 million

Nevada contribution: $82 million

California contribution: $275.1 million

Local government contribution: $101 million

Private sector contribution: $152.7 million


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