Water quality control board to monitor Heavenly Valley Creek | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water quality control board to monitor Heavenly Valley Creek

Snowmelt dribbling from Heavenly Ski Resort’s upper mountain may get extra monitoring for water quality.

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state regulatory agency, is planning to test for micro-invertebrates in Heavenly Valley Creek, which starts beneath Sky Express chair lift and connects with Trout Creek a few miles downstream.

The test comes in addition to current monitoring by the U.S. Forest Service, which leases land to Heavenly Ski Resort.

Forest Service hydrologist Sherry Hazelhurst said it would be a sign of good health if the creek hosts the organisms.

“It tells about certain beneficial uses of water if certain organisms exist,” Hazelhurst said. “Then we compare that data to Hidden Creek, which is just south of Heavenly and also in the Trout Creek Drainage.”

Both Lahontan and the Forest Service agree that, when compared to the sample creek, Heavenly Valley Creek carries extra sediment.

Ski runs cut at the resort during the 1960s are largely responsible for increased silt drifting into the rambling creek.

The sediment-laden water is a concern to area water quality regulators because it clouds Lake Tahoe’s notable clarity, which is already losing its transparency at the rate of about 1 foot each year, according to scientists.

“The creek is on what we call the water quality impaired list,” said Lauri Kemper, Lahontan’s chief of the Lake Tahoe watershed. “It’s much better now than in the 1960s but it’s still not meeting standards.”

Mitigation to keep excess sand from entering the creek was started by the resort in 1988, said Andrew Strain, Heavenly’s director of planning.

He said the resort spends about $200,000 each year on erosion control measures across the massive ski mountain.

“We see that roads tend to be a sediment source so we’ve removed the roads that we don’t need anymore, and we’ve changed the way we get to the lifts,” Strain said. “We try to work over the snow more.”

Strain added that the resort has also restored Sky meadow into wetland, an important construction that traps silt before it starts careening toward the lake.

“We’ve revegetated the meadow and put in a rock-lined drainage course.”

Hazelhurst said the technique is working.

“Recent water quality data show that the creek has improved dramatically,” Hazelhurst said. “I think the biggest improvements came when they revegetated the bare areas.”

As outlined in its master plan, Heavenly will continue mitigation until 2006, when it will begin maintenance on the projects it has already completed.

In the meantime, Lahontan is collecting public comment on the plan to monitor and restore the creek.

Public comment, which closes Dec. 21, can be sent to Judith Unsicker at the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board at 2501 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150.

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