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Tahoe wetlands project gains powerful supporter

By Patrick McCartney



Tribune Senior Staff Writer



Standing beside the remnants of the once-vast marsh that existed where the Upper Truckee River flows into Lake Tahoe, the nation’s top environmental official heaped praise on a project to restore the wetlands.

“This place where we are standing today, the largest marsh in the Tahoe Basin, is a primary example of the challenge we face,” said Carol Browner, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. “Restoring the wetlands will give us an important step in protecting the water quality of Lake Tahoe.”

Browner and Michael Davis, a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers toured the area Wednesday before hosting a workshop at the Valhalla Estate on water-quality issues at Lake Tahoe.

Browner called the Upper Truckee Marsh one of the special places in the nation that deserves support. She compared the plan by the California Tahoe Conservancy to restore the marsh to the efforts of Florida residents to protect the Everglades.

Steve Goldman, the conservancy’s program manager overseeing the planning of the wetlands project, said the project, called Cove East, will restore the ability of the meadow to filter out nutrient-laden sediment before it flows into Lake Tahoe.

“This is the most significant restoration project to be considered in the Tahoe Basin,” Goldman said. “It’s our greatest opportunity to restore an area and preserve Lake Tahoe.”

The river drains one-third of the Tahoe Basin, and contributes a like amount of sediments into the lake, Goldman said. Since the Tahoe Keys development broke ground in 1958, the river has been diverted into a deep channel, leaving most of the remaining meadow high and dry.

Other parts of the wetland were dredged to make the channels of Tahoe Keys.

A 36-acre vacant parcel that was once targeted for 300 condominiums in the development’s last phase, will be lowered and restored as part of the river’s flood plain, Goldman said.

The conservancy owns 200 acres of the project area, but will enlist the aid of local, state and federal agencies to restore the wetland, at an estimated cost of $10 million to $12 million. Work is expected to begin next year.

When the Cove East project is completed, the Upper Truckee River will flow in a much shallower channel than currently. Because of it artificially deep channel, the river only floods the remaining wetlands once every 10 years, Goldman said.

Once a new channel is created that restores the river’s natural meandering course, the Upper Truckee should flood the marsh most years, allowing the meadow vegetation to filter out the nutrient-laden sediment, he said.

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