TRPA has trouble defining boat ban
August 22, 2005
Although Tahoe’s planning agency justifies a proposed motorboat ban at Emerald Bay by referencing Environmental Protection Agency pollution standards, the federal body said this week it has no such standards.
Motorboaters have repeatedly asked the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency why pollution in Emerald Bay is considered long-term degradation even though data indicates pollution completely disappears during winter and spring.
The issue of pollution in Emerald Bay came to the fore in early July when the TRPA released its Alternative 6 for the shorezone. The plan includes a proposal to ban motorboats from Emerald Bay for one day a weekend during summer months, with TRPA citing its status as an Outstanding National Resource Water and its mandate to protect the lake from so called long-term degradation.
Now, the question is whether pollution in Emerald Bay is long-term, which is illegal under ONRW? Or is it short-term degradation, which is allowed under the EPA’s ONRW standard?
It all boils down to the definition of the word “long-term.”
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency chief planner Coleen Shade said EPA has defined “long-term degradation” for them as months and years, so TRPA must prevent pollution from occurring for longer than one month. TRPA has used this definition as an argument for restricting a portion of the lake to motorboats.
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EPA’s Tahoe representative Jane Freeman on Tuesday did not recall providing a definition to the TRPA.
“I don’t have any recollection of having that discussion,” Freeman said Tuesday in a conference call with the Tahoe Daily Tribune which included her superior Javita Pajarillo, associate director in the water division of the Region 9 office of the EPA in San Francisco.
“We have never been asked for an official EPA opinion on this. They have nothing in writing from EPA that would define this,” Freeman said Tuesday.
EPA only defines “temporary” or “short term,” which means months and weeks, and has no definition for “long term,” Pajarillo said.
According to the EPA, pollution existing for more than one month, but less than one year – as is the case in Emerald Bay – is short term.
Temporary or short term degradation to water quality is allowed under ONRW status, according to EPA standards.
Pollution was detected at Emerald Bay twice in 2001, according to TRPA data from the University of Nevada, Reno. The pollution was not detected after October 2001 through the end of the study in July 2002.
If more boats are allowed on Lake Tahoe, pollution in the bay could increase, TRPA contends, so a motorboat ban is justified to mitigate that.
Further degradation is prohibited in any lake with ONRW status, which was bestowed upon Lake Tahoe in 1980 after the Clean Water Act in 1977.
Shade has told the public that EPA lawyers defined “long term” to her as being months and years. She took that to mean pollution detections in Emerald Bay for longer than a month may jeopardize Lake Tahoe’s ONRW status.
“ONRW is federal law that we have to comply with,” Shade reiterated Tuesday. “What we were told would be a degradation is if the levels were elevated for months and years. We’ve been using it in our documents since we’ve started talking about ONRW.”
Shade said the TRPA based the Tahoe Keys master plan on the same information on “long-term degradation.”
Shade said the non-degradation status had been discussed at many meetings over several years, with the presence of Jane Freeman from the EPA and Lahontan Regional Water Quality officials.
Freeman did not dispute TRPA’s definition of long term when contacted on her cell phone on Monday. She also did not dispute Shade’s representation that EPA lawyers told her long term meant months and years.
“I don’t see any discrepancy here,” she said Monday.
There is a pollution problem in Emerald Bay, Freeman also said Monday.
“If this happens every year, I don’t think that fits within the spirit of what EPA meant by short term and temporary,” Freeman said Monday. “These are not temporary, these are seasonal, this is every year.”
Shade said Freeman was the one giving her this information.
“We never sat down directly with the lawyers,” Shade said Tuesday. “This was coming out of EPA through Jane to us. Jane knows her stuff.”
Shade said it’s important to know what degradation is so the TRPA can follow its federal mandate.
“If you don’t have a definition for that, how do you know what your targets are?” she asked Tuesday.
Pajarillo and Freeman said EPA supports efforts to prevent degradation at Lake Tahoe, regardless of definitions, and would like to help TRPA understand its ONRW status and come up with a definition of “long term” with its lawyers.
“We see (temporary) as weeks and months, and not years, but our intent is to limit degradation to the shortest amount of time possible,” Pajarillo said Monday.
EPA has not reviewed the data on pollution in Emerald Bay, Freeman said. The agency has not issued an opinion on any of the shorezone alternatives but expects to do so by the Sept. 2 deadline, Freeman said.