Southern Nevada land sales may aid Lake Tahoe
SAND HARBOR — The sale of federal land in Southern Nevada could provide $30 million for restoration projects at Lake Tahoe by the end of the year.
Legislation to amend a federal lands act so it would provide the money annually for Lake Tahoe over the next seven years already has bipartisan support in Congress and could become law this year, said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.
Ensign announced the anticipated increase in federal funding Monday at Sand Harbor as part of the Lake Tahoe Summit. The summit, in its sixth year, is hosted to focus energy and attention on protecting the clarity of the lake.
The change would allow the federal government to tap increased revenue created by land sales in the Las Vegas Valley and make good on a financial commitment it made to Tahoe with the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. The act promised $30 million over 10 years, but each year funding has come up short.
“Money authorized — that doesn’t necessarily mean the money is appropriated,” Ensign said. “Thirty million dollars a year would come from the Southern Nevada Lands Act for all the projects we need to restore the clarity of Lake Tahoe.”
Ensign, who spent fourth through 10th grades at South Shore and still vacations at Tahoe, said he first conceived of the plan to come up with federal funds at Lake Tahoe while on a campaign trip at Incline in 2000.
At Sand Harbor on Monday, Ensign credited Nevada’s former Democratic Rep. Jim Santini with providing the framework for his legislation. The Santini-Burton Act, passed in 1980, allows revenue from the sale of federal land in Southern Nevada to fund the Forest Service purchase of environmentally sensitive land at the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The Southern Nevada Lands Act, authored by then Rep. Ensign and former Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., became law in 1998. The most recent sale involved 995 acres that went for $232 million. In all, 13 land auctions have produced $566 million for Nevada.
The state is ripe for land sales because 67 percent of the state is under federal ownership through the Bureau of Land Management, said Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary for Land and Minerals at the Department of Interior.
Ensign reminded the roughly 200 or so people who endured a blazing late morning sun to attend the summit that Lake Tahoe is a place that’s treasured by Southern Nevadans. Therefore, Ensign said, it makes sense for the money from the act to be spent on environmental improvements at Tahoe.
“The money has been so significant,” he said. “The land value has skyrocketed in Southern Nevada so there’s a lot more money there.”
Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, was ecstatic about Ensign’s announcement.
“It’s inspiring and heartening to be here today hearing such good news,” Nason said. “So many people have worked so hard for so long … this is a real leap forward. We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the amendment to the Southern Nevada Lands Act becomes law.”
Charles Goldman, who founded the UC Davis Tahoe Research Group in 1959, also was encouraged by the news.
“It shows how committed the state of Nevada is to Lake Tahoe,” Goldman said. “Restoration is absolutely essential. It’s got to be done.”
Concerning his announcement at the first summit in 1997 that the two states had only a 10-year window to save the lake, Goldman hedged some.
“I guess we still have a 10-year window,” he said, “because we’ve made a lot of progress.”
This year Goldman’s Tahoe Research Group reported the deepest clarity readings in the lake, 78 feet on average, since 1992. Data also indicated a decrease in algae growth.
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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