U.S. Water News Online
RENO, Nev. -- It's possible to restore Lake Tahoe's famed
clarity to historic levels by reducing pollutants that cloud its
waters, according to the findings of a new study.
But a more difficult question is whether the political and
economic will exists to implement the necessary changes. And who will
pay for them.
"The money has to come from somewhere," said Roz Mitchell, a
28-year Lake Tahoe resident and real estate agent.
"We don't want to see the clarity declining any further, that's
for sure," Mitchell told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "But how is the
impact going to be spread around? Is there going to be a tax?"
Such questions will be addressed after release of a study
concluding it's possible to return the lake's clarity to levels of
three decades ago, when a person could see 100 feet into the lake
from its surface. Today, fine sediments and algae in the water caused
by human activity restrict visibility to about 70 feet.
To reverse the decline, the amount of pollutants entering the lake
must be cut by roughly one-third. That's one key finding in recent
research involving complex computer modeling that examined pollutants
found in the lake, where they come from and how the lake would
respond to reductions of those pollutants.
"The real good news is the lake can respond in a favorable way,"
said Dave Roberts of California's Lahontan Regional Water Quality
Control Board, a key participant in the research. "This does look
like it's something that is doable."
Over the next year, experts will discuss what specific changes can
be made to reduce pollution tainting the lake. Options range from
cutting back on the amount of fertilizer used on lawns and golf
courses to treating dirty runoff from city streets and parking lots
that now flows directly into the lake.
More pollution-emitting cars could be removed from Tahoe's streets
and mass transit relied upon instead. Erosion control -- already a
major component of environmental restoration efforts at the lake --
could be substantially expanded.
"Which combination will work?" said John Reuter, associate
director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center. "Which of these
things are even possible on the ground? Is the technology here? How
much will it cost?"
By next summer, Reuter and other experts hope to have answered
many of those questions and develop a detailed strategy for reducing
pollutants. Doing so, Reuter said, is "going to take a much bigger
and more organized effort that what we've had up to this point."
Whatever strategy is developed can hopefully be pursued without
damage to Tahoe's sometimes fragile economy, said Duane Wallace,
executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.
"The overall concept makes a lot of sense and actually provides
some hope," Wallace said. "But the devil really is in the details.
Environmental improvements, he said, "need to be balanced with how
much the economy can take."
"The economy should be an equal part of the mix," Wallace said.
The coming debate, while difficult, comes with the welcome
addition of precise information regarding Tahoe's environmental
problems and how they might be corrected, said John Singlaub,
executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
"Now we have the scientific basis to make those social, political
and economic decisions," Singlaub said. "This says we can not only
clean up the basin, we can do it in a relatively short amount of time
if we've got the political will to do it."
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