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Tahoe ‘TESS’ created by scientists

KINGS BEACH – Worries by some that numerous research facilities might pop up around Lake Tahoe – overlapping scientists’ efforts and bogging down plans to save the jewel of the Sierra – should be alleviated after the creation of TESS.

With applause coming from a roomful of Tahoe researchers and decision makers, the three top officials of the university systems studying Tahoe signed an agreement Wednesday creating TESS, the Tahoe Environmental Science System. The unique agreement solidifies plans for three Tahoe Basin research centers with specific tasks designed for each.

“We’re creating a seamless environment of research activities for the Lake Tahoe Basin,” said Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute.



Wells signed the agreement at Wednesday’s unveiling of the long-awaited, 1,200-page Lake Tahoe Watershed Assessment along with Joe Crowley, president of the University of Nevada, Reno; and Larry Vanderhoef, chancellor of the University of California, Davis.

U.C. Davis has long had a research facility in Tahoe City, and the university is raising money to improve it. UNR is establishing a field research station at Washoe County’s Thunderbird Lodge. DRI, which is a part of the University of Nevada system, has long-term plans to build a facility in Round Hill.




The intent of TESS is to have “a single distributed research entity composed of integrated parts, each designed to accomplish specific and complementary tasks.”

“It is our hope that scientists can move freely among these facilities, and that TESS will eliminate competition, encourage collaboration and reduce the costs of conducting research at Lake Tahoe,” said Vanderhoef.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and other officials were discussing one Tahoe research facility a few years ago. But after U.C. Davis raised money to renovate its Tahoe City facility, officials started talking about research centers in each state.

UNR then acquired use of the Thunderbird Lodge, and more discussions about a third research center happened.

Last year officials from TRPA, the bistate regulatory authority charged with protecting the environment of the region, expressed concern that too many research facilities scattered around Tahoe might be counterproductive.

Carl Hasty, Environmental Improvement Program coordinator for TRPA, said the action taken Wednesday was important for Tahoe. Coupled with a newly formed Science Advisory Group composed of the three institutions, TRPA, the Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey, the agreement would continue collaborative efforts at Tahoe.

“What we witnessed this morning, I cannot tell you how important and tough it is to get to that point,” Hasty said.

Dennis Murphy, researcher for UNR and science team leader for developing the Watershed Assessment, described TESS as unique.

“I think historically universities have been competitive because research funds have been limited, but this compelling challenge of saving the lake has really broken down the institutional barriers and calls for a new way of doing business,” he said. “This institutional cooperation is going to be absolutely necessary to facilitate the quick actions that are going to be needed to cleanse the lake.”

“It’s certainly unique across this state border,” he added. “I think in the history of academic science, there’s been some collaboration and cooperation, but this is virtually unique with the two state universities joining forces in all aspects of research, data gathering and policy development.”


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