Tahoe Conservancy will fund $10.5 million for wetlands project | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe Conservancy will fund $10.5 million for wetlands project

The long-awaited $10.5 million restoration of the largest contiguous chunk of disturbed wetland in the Lake Tahoe Basin should be started in summer 2001.

Decision makers for the California Tahoe Conservancy agreed Friday to spend the money on a program that will restore an 23-acre parcel of land that lies between the Upper Truckee River and the Tahoe Keys, a large South Shore neighborhood with lagoons and channels.

“This is one of the most significant restoration projects we’ve ever recommended to the board for approval,” said Dennis Machida, executive officer of the Conservancy, which buys and restores environmentally sensitive land on the California side of the basin.

The Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek, which together account for a third of Tahoe’s watershed, historically converged in the Truckee Marsh, which may have been the biggest wetland in the Sierra Nevada at one time.

However, in the 1950s and 1960s, half of the marsh was destroyed with the construction of the Tahoe Keys.

And officials estimate 75 percent of the wetlands at Tahoe have been lost, a big reason Tahoe’s famous clarity is getting ever murkier. Wetlands are able to filter nutrient-filled sediment out of water before it runs into Tahoe.

To the east of the Tahoe Keys and the disturbed parcel remains a large, lush meadow, and Conservancy officials want the disturbed chunk to some day resemble that.

The Conservancy has been planning to restore the area for a decade. Approval was unanimous by the agency’s decision-making board. However, there was, and has often been, opposition to the proposal.

The decision taken Friday was needed last December in order for construction to begin this year. However, Tahoe Keys residents, some of whom will be impacted by noisy trucks driving down their streets during the construction period, voiced complaints last fall. The Conservancy delayed the plan until officials could better work with the community about concerns that were raised.

Conservancy staffers said Friday they had appeased those concerns to the extent possible, and the proposal passed unanimously. However, opposition still existed.

Hal Avakian, a Tahoe Keys resident, spearheaded an effort to get the board to consider a just-thought-of-this-week alternative. He said it would reduce the truck trips, of which there are expected to be as many as 7,000 during the summer. About 78,000 cubic yards of dirt needs to be removed, and Avakian said the small nutrient-laden particles could be separated from the larger, sand-like dirt. The sand could be distributed on Tahoe Keys beaches, and the smaller particles could be hauled away, still resulting in truck trips but not nearly as many as the 7,000 proposed now.

The Conservancy’s Machida said exploring that option might delay work three to five years, and board members said they wanted work to begin as soon as possible.

“I just don’t think we can justify a delay that long,” said Conservancy board member Kevin Cole, adding that he lived along the truck route and felt people should put up with the inconvenience for the project’s long-term benefits.

And the benefits to the project go beyond those dealing with water quality. Identified in the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Environmental Improvement Program as a top priority, the restoration project is supposed to help create vegetation and wildlife habitat, and improve the area’s scenery.

The Conservancy owns about 200 acres around the mouth of the river, Tahoe’s largest tributary. There are long-term hopes to restore the lower 2,000 feet of the river, which has been channeled and now acts as a gun barrel, shooting sediment out into the famously clear Tahoe. A naturally meandering river would frequently overflow its banks, and nearby meadows would act like sponges, filtering out the sediment and therefore not contributing to the continual decline of the lake’s transparency.

The work to be started in 2001 is a stand-alone project; however, it was designed to be a component of long-term plans.

While work has been delayed a year from what was originally planned, Conservancy officials hope to get all of the construction done in 2001, whereas the original plan had been to perform the noisy, street-cluttering work both in 2000 and 2001.

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