Taking action on my BMPs
August 18, 2004
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the progress of a BMP demonstration project located at the author’s house. It’s designed to demystify and simplify the lake clarity program, which requires property owners take measures to trap water runoff. Best management practices are a mandate for those in South Lake Tahoe by May 2006 and citizens of El Dorado and Douglas counties in 2008. A BMP can be as simple as mulch thrown on the ground and as complex as a driveway swale, which means a hollow depression of land. Penalties for non-compliance range from $1,000 to $4,000.
By Susan Wood
Tribune staff writer
Attention property owners – now is the time to look under your deck, in the ground or next to the fence to satisfy the best management practices mandate imposed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
With the help of some hearty workers, I’ve been lugging lumber from under the deck (a fire hazard I ignored) to the yard to be transformed into borders.
Before any of this work started, four trees from the front of my Jeffery Street house were removed and 12 from the back were lifted out with a crane. Though tree removal is not necessary for BMPs, if it needs to be done, it is better to do so before the BMP work begins.
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In addition to the wood left from the previous owner, we took rocks from the back fence and turned them into plant borders. These simple scavenger tips save the environment and the homeowner money.
Every little bit helps, as doing BMPs can be costly if they lead to other things like overhauling a driveway or clear-cutting the back yard.
Our trees brought us the majority of materials for the BMP project. TRPA tagged every tree on the lot. We opted to leave a few.
In the natural habitat of Tahoe, lodge pole pines are not supposed to grow hundreds of feet high or to be as old as many are. Fire would have naturally swept them away. Now they can pose a crown fire threat as well as a risk to structures if their shallow roots were to give way.
In came South Shore tree cutter Tim Harrison of Tim’s Total Tree to take them down.
The process took about half a day and cost $3,500.
There were times the job was hair-raising – especially when I witnessed a crane parked in my front yard bringing trees over the roof. I had visions of the house being skewered by a tree.
“I don’t mind telling you, I’m a little nervous about this,” I told Harrison.
He was calm and composed, while sitting on his tractor as his tree climber performed acrobatic acts.
“Don’t worry. We’ve done a lot of these jobs,” he said.
It’s better to be at work when things like this are going on at your home.
The tree clearing netted more than sunshine and fewer pine cones to rake. It brought me 10 square yards of wood chips and 15 stepping stones for a pathway linking the front and back yards.
The wood chip pile seemed overwhelming when it showed up the night before a BMP crew started its work in the yard. The crew helped spread the mulch around the perimeter of the front yard and throughout the back. Chips even served as four boundary lines for the sand badminton court that I put in a few weeks after the trees were cut.
I spent $370 at Tahoe Sand and Gravel to cover a 30-by-17-foot area. For that money, the South Shore company also equipped me with a mesh tarp to put the sand on and help keep the weeds out. It’s made of a fabric that allows water to filter through it, unlike a plastic.
The mission to keep water runoff on my property started with a plan drawn by Erik Larson of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. Larson meticulously drafted a rendering that included plants, spots for wildflower seed and rock beds. “Badminton” was written across the plan, proof BMPs don’t have to provide a boring back yard.
On planting day, a handful of TRCD staffers and volunteers dug into the woodchip pile, took the rocks along the fence to build planters and used dirt from the drip lines to create growing areas. An assortment of plants valued at about $300 went in the ground. Larson said a property owner could easily substitute $50 of wildflower seed and get a similar effect.
“Bee balm is good for the hummingbirds,” TRCD worker Bill Weston said, as I found therapy in placing the living thing in the ground.
The yard is now sprinkled with rosin weed – a type of sunflower, shrubs called spirea, a small vine maple, thimbleberries, mint and delphinium flowers. Lamb’s ear, a dusty-green plant, dressed up the corners of the deck.
TRCD staffer Mary Ann Rozance came up with a creative idea for using the antique, rust-colored barbecue grill (another leftover from the previous residents). The workers threw open the lid and planted flowers inside the grill. The soil came from the holes dug for the gravel-lined dry wells.
It would be another week before the drip lines would be dealt with. And the driveway, well, that really is another story.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at email@example.com