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Watercraft ban to be fine tuned

Andy Bourelle

The staff of Lake Tahoe’s bi-state regulatory agency is recommending that the Lake Tahoe ban on personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis, be amended – just barely.

Despite earlier indications over the summer that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency likely would amend its ordinance to an emissions standard rather than a ban on certain engine types, TRPA now has decided to stick closely to its original regulations.

“We are reaffirming that we were on the right track and are making a small adjustment to close a loophole in the existing language,” said Pam Drum, TRPA public affairs coordinator.



A preliminary draft report of the Lake Tahoe Motorized Watercraft Report – the culmination of research from the numerous agencies including the University of California, Davis; University of Nevada, Reno; U.S. Geological Survey; TRPA; and Nevada Division of Wildlife – was released Wednesday, and TRPA’s advisory planning commission and governing board will discuss the proposed amendments at meetings later this month.

The governing board will not look at the item for adoption until January.



TRPA governors in February 1997 banned carbureted two-stroke engines from Lake Tahoe, effective June 1, 1999. However, the ordinance left room for changes, and UC Davis, UNR, USGS, the California Air Resources Board have been researching motorized watercraft this year. The Nevada Division of Wildlife with the California Department of Boating and Waterways also are in the process of conducting a survey of boaters on Lake Tahoe, which was used by TRPA.

“We wanted to study more to question or change the policy, and to make sure we were right,” said Gabby Barrett, TRPA manager of long-range planning. “I think (the research) makes us feel more comfortable with the actions we took.”

The National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Lake Tahoe Watercraft Recreation Association and several watercraft rental firms and residents in October 1997 filed a lawsuit against TRPA for the ban, claiming TRPA’s phaseout of the engines is unfounded and unfairly singles out engines. U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. out of Sacramento dismissed most of the complaints in October, and TRPA claimed “near total victory.” But the watercraft plaintiffs filed an amended complaint shortly after. The next hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled later this month.

According to the report, the total amount of fuel used on Lake Tahoe during the 1998 boating season was estimated to be 1.5 million gallons. Two-cycle carbureted engines used only about 11 to 12 percent of that total. However, because two-cycle engines have the largest percentage of unburned fuel going into the water, those engines are believed to be responsible for significant loading of gasoline compounds into the lake, including more than 90 percent of the MTBE, 70 percent of the benzene and 80 percent of the toluene in Lake Tahoe.

In contrast, the four-cycle inboard and inboard/outboard engines consumed 87 percent of the fuel used by boating on Tahoe. But, that class was estimated to be responsible for only 8 percent of the MTBE, 28 percent of the benzene and 17 percent of the toluene.

MTBE is classified as a possible cancer-causing agent, benzene is known to cause cancer and toluene is known to cause birth defects.

The compounds were found in patches throughout the lake. In the areas of high watercraft use, according to the report, concentrations of MTBE and benzene were found to exceed drinking water standards. The calculated average of the contamination did not exceed standards, and the concentrations did not approach U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criteria for protection of aquatic life.

Concentrations of the contaminants drop at the end of the summer boating season.

According to Fred Messmann, boat law administrator for the Nevada Division of Wildlife, the research on boaters revealed that a small portion of the people who use the unacceptable watercraft will continue to use them. Although 23 to 43 percent of the people surveyed said they would continue to use their current watercraft, most already used acceptable watercraft. Only about 3.5 percent of the people using unacceptable watercraft said they would continue using them.

breakout

Upcoming meetings to discuss motorized watercraft ban

What: Regular meeting of the Advisory Planning Commission of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

When: Dec. 9, 9:30 a.m.

Where: North Tahoe Conference Center, Kings Beach

What: Regular meeting of the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

When: Dec. 16, 9:30 a.m.

Where: The Horizon Casino Resort, Stateline

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