Watercraft team enforces boating rules | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Watercraft team enforces boating rules

Some people wave and smile, others make an effort to not even look at the boat.

“We try to wave,” said Romie Navarro, a member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Watercraft Enforcement Team. “If they don’t wave, they don’t wave. We let it roll off our backs. We’re still going to do our job.”

The TRPA has been loved by some and hated by others since it was established to protect Lake Tahoe in 1969. Navarro, 32, and Zack Ballingham, 28, get paid to cruise the lake and educate boaters about rules adopted to decrease pollution, noise and wave action.

The watercraft team spent much of its time over the last several years working to enforce a ban on carbureted, two-stroke engines. Adopted in 1999, the ban has prevented the release of unburned oil and gas into the lake and dramatically reduced the level of toxic chemicals in the water, according to Coleen Shade, a TRPA long-term planner.

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Only on occasion does the watercraft team spot an illegal two-stroke. The violation typically involves a boater who has never been to Tahoe. The violator is informed of the engine ban and the boat’s registration number is entered into a TRPA database.

No tickets are issued, but Navarro and Ballingham do issue warning citations. Repeat violations increase the likelihood of a fine, but for the most part, fines are a thing of the past.

“People have really gotten the message,” said Julie Regan, TRPA communications director.

Today the efforts of the team are focused on the agency’s buoy-permitting program. Much of the work involves investigating complaints or questions from the public, then going back to the TRPA office at Stateline to dig into permit records.

“People call us, we’ll pull the parcel number and see exactly what permits they have,” Ballingham said.

A lot of effort also goes to public outreach. Members of the watercraft team recently distributed information pamphlets at a boat show in Oakland. And earlier this month, Navarro and Ballingham attended a homeowners’ meeting in Tahoe City to field questions and explain the buoy system.

Team members also regularly motor around marinas, coves and docks near boat ramps to talk to people about ways to protect the lake environment.

One such protection prohibits boaters from motoring fast enough to create a wake within 600 feet of the shore. The rule was adopted in 1999 to protect wildlife from engine noise and create calmer water near the shore for kayakers.

Shade remembers how things could end up before the no-wake rule was adopted.

“There were Jet Skis going up the Upper Truckee,” Shade said. “We were almost in high water after the drought so they would get pretty high up.”

For more information about the TRPA Watercraft Enforcement Team, call (775) 588-4547 ext. 298 or e-mail wet@trpa.org.

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