Tahoe Keys a center for recreation " and controversy | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe Keys a center for recreation " and controversy

Adam Jensen

Published Caption: Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tribune /

Few construction projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin highlight the often-conflicting interests of development and environmental protection quite like the Tahoe Keys.

Built in the late 1950s and early ’60s, the 740-acre development at the mouth of the Upper Truckee River has alternately been seen as an appealing place to live and an environmental disaster.

An estimated 5 million cubic yards of material were dredged from the marsh at the mouth of the river to create the fingers of land interlaced with 11 miles of backyard waterways that make up the Keys.

The effort destroyed much of the river’s marsh and removed a major filtration system from Lake Tahoe’s largest tributary, identified by the Lahontan Water Board as a major source of fine sediment that reduces the clarity of the lake.

The draw of the development is undeniable, and marketing for the neighborhood has changed little over the past four decades.

“Most of the 1,539 members who own homes, townhouses or vacant lots have a private boat dock and are located on numerous lagoons, canals or the Tahoe Keys Marina with its boat-launching ramps,” according to the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association. “Waterfront living provides direct access to Lake Tahoe and its many watersports. At Tahoe Keys, we enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and mountains, and enjoy amenities like tennis, indoor and outdoor pools, spa and more.”

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While the attraction of living in the Keys has remained the same, the development more recently has faced a new set of environmental issues, including the fight against the introduction of aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe.

Eurasian watermilfoil was discovered in the Keys in the 1980s and, despite efforts to remove it, has spread to numerous locations around the lake.

Researchers also have indicated the Keys area is the likely introduction point for a growing population of warmwater fish species around the lake.

The spread of species such as bass and blue gill threatens some of the lake’s few remaining native species, according to researchers.

Despite the propensity for the Keys to harbor introduced species, Keys Marina staff recently were instrumental in preventing a possible introduction of another invasive species into the lake: the quagga mussel.

Marina staff spotted the potentially destructive mussel on the engine of a boat in August and alerted inspectors and Department of Fish and Game personnel, who were able to quarantine the boat before it entered the lake.

With these continued environmental concerns, the long-controversial Tahoe Keys likely will remain the focus of environmental scrutiny for years to come.