Sticker shock and BMPs | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Sticker shock and BMPs

Provided to the Tahoe Daily Tribune The author's back yard after planting and rockbed work comes away with a whole new look following the demonstration project.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the progress of a BMP demonstration project located at the author’s house. It’s designed to demystify and simplify the lake clarity program, which requires property owners take measures to trap water runoff. Best management practices are a mandate for those in South Lake Tahoe by 2006, and citizens of El Dorado and Douglas counties by 2008. A BMP can be as simple as mulch thrown on the ground or as complex as a driveway swale, which means a hollow depression of land. Penalties for non-compliance range from $1,000 to $4,000.

By Susan Wood

Tribune staff writer

Every rain storm would bring a puddle near the front door. Every overwatering of the lawn would flood that same spot. It was a muddy mess at times. Grass wouldn’t grow because not enough sun touched this swath of dirt.

Drip lines are one of the most pervasive erosion problems in the basin. Because gutters are a rarity, moisture flows off roofs onto the ground. This in turn flows toward the lake – exactly what isn’t supposed to happen.

Through best management practices the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, with the cooperation of the resource conservation districts in California and Nevada, has adopted guidelines which trap the water on residential and commercial properties so it never reaches Lake Tahoe.

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Time, though, is ticking for people to do their BMPs. This is not a voluntary thing. Fines will be issued if property owners don’t do them. It’s not that being in compliance takes months of work, but it can take months of planning to coordinate everything. And the cost, that’s what really got us. My advice is start saving money now.

Paving contractor Gary Jones sympathized with my sticker shock regarding a driveway overhaul.

“That’s the problem with getting your BMPs done. Some people don’t have the money,” he said.

Our driveway needs to have the concrete ripped out via jack hammer, to be regraded, compacted, a road base put down, and paved with a swale so water flows into the dry well that would be installed. The water will be directed toward the grass.

Estimates on driveway paving stones top out at $6,000. The standard asphalt variety ranges from $3,200 to $4,700, depending on the contractor. Many contractors are now buried in jobs during the grading season that ends in October.

The trees eroded our budget (see Aug. 25 Tahoe Daily Tribune story), so the driveway will have to wait until the funds are replenished.

But what has been accomplished is dealing with those pesky drip lines. A crew of a half-dozen workers rocked and rolled into action to wrap up the demonstration project at my Jeffery Street house – under the direction of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. The agency manages the site evaluations on California properties for the TRPA, which brought out two members of its erosion control team to oversee the project – Matt Graham and Brendan Ferry.

The day started at 8:30 a.m. with a Tahoe Sand and Gravel truck dumping 10 tons of rock valued at about $330 in the driveway.

The job came with an agreed-upon plan drawn by Erik Larson of the TRCD. The smooth, grey cobble – accounting for about two-thirds of the rock expense – was punctuated by a separate shipment of rainbow cobble. The decorative rock has hues of red, green and blue. Though aesthetically pleasing, the rock has a more important purpose than sprucing up the front and eliminating the caked dirt. The rock catches the water flowing from the roof. It gives the water a place to settle when the snow melts off the roof or when torrential rains flow from it.

Gravel beds were established under the non-gabled ends of the house – and anchored by wooden frames.

Ferry estimates most people pay about $1 a foot for the boards which provide a border for the rocks in our front yard. We had enough left from the previous owners so the expense turned out to be about $20 for 18 inches of framing pins.

A small rock well was created to absorb the water from the side downspout. More of that wood border and grey stone is out back to trap the water off the rear roof.

This fall it will be up to us to tackle the front yard. It was never in the best shape and indentations from the tree crane only added to the “Tahoe” look of the place. We will either aerate or rototill it before reseeding.

Mountain croquet next summer just won’t be the same with a nice yard. But the increased value of our house because of that eventual BMP certificate is worth the trade-off.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

swood@tahoedailytribune.com