Study finds little impact from river pact on Lake Tahoe |

Study finds little impact from river pact on Lake Tahoe

Patrick McCartney

A study of a proposed new agreement governing water use in the Truckee River Basin concludes that any effect on the Tahoe Basin from changes in patterns of water storage and releases would likely be negligible.

Some residents of Lake Tahoe, however, claim that the report ignores shoreline erosion of Lake Tahoe caused by high lake levels.

The proposed Truckee River Operating Agreement is intended to fairly divide downstream water rights among private and public interests in California and Nevada, including farmers in the Fallon area, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Sierra Pacific Power Co.

A public meeting to explain the report’s findings will be held at the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District tonight, beginning at 7 p.m. A series of formal hearings will be held in May, including a May 11 hearing in Truckee, but none will be held in the Tahoe Basin.

Besides conserving the endangered cui-ui and Lahontan cutthroat trout at Pyramid Lake, the agreement is intended to provide future water supplies for the growing Reno-Sparks area. Elements of the agreement have been worked out over the years in negotiations that resulted in the 1996 Preliminary Operating Agreement.

The proposed agreement would increase the amount of water released from Lake Tahoe by 2,700 acre-feet a year, less than 1 percent more than the 455,200 acre-feet now annually stored at Lake Tahoe behind a 6.1-foot dam at Tahoe City. One acre-foot is enough to meet the water needs of two families for a year.

The agreement would increase storage at three of the six other dams in the Truckee River Basin – Prosser, Stampede and Boca – by amounts ranging from 12 to 36 percent.

In a draft environmental impact report, federal and California agency staff concluded that the changes in storage and releases at Lake Tahoe would create slightly less favorable conditions at Lake Tahoe for Tahoe yellowcress, a shorezone plant listed as endangered in California. The study calls for continued monitoring of the plant as the agreement is implemented.

By law, the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is prohibited from addressing the level of Lake Tahoe in its regulations. Jerry Wells, the agency’s deputy executive director, said the agency will review the environmental report and submit comments.

“We will have to see what kind of impact (the lake levels) have on water quality,” Wells said.

Colleen Shade, a TRPA planner who has studied the Tahoe yellowcress, said the plant benefits from a fluctuating shoreline.

“The yellowcress needs this kind of disturbance,” Shade said. “It needs high water occasionally to kill its rivals. Yellowcress is a pioneer species, and if the lake is kept at a low level, other species would germinate and crowd it out.”

In the past, both environmentalists and private property interests have criticized Lake Tahoe’s artificially high lake level.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe will take a close look at the environmental report before commenting on the effect of lake levels on shoreline erosion, said Jeff Cutler, the league’s assistant executive director.

But Gregg Lien, an attorney who represents the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council, condemned the proposed agreement for maintaining Lake Tahoe as a reservoir for downstream water users.

“High lake level is the single most important environmental issue facing Lake Tahoe,” Lien said.

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