The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, a bill to restore Lake Tahoe and the basin and protect the region from a number of imminent threats, was introduced Thursday, according to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office.
The bill was authored by Feinstein, D-Calif., and is cosponsored by Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act would continue the federal commitment to Lake Tahoe by authorizing $415 million over 10 years to help improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, reduce risks from catastrophic wildfires, combat invasive species and restore and protect the environment in the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to the release.
The legislation would authorize $243 million over 10 years for the highest-priority restoration projects based on scientific data. At least $138 million would be allocated to stormwater management and watershed restoration projects that are scientifically-determined to be the most effective ways to improve water clarity. The legislation also requires a prioritized ranking of environmental restoration projects and authorizes $80 million for the Lake Tahoe stakeholders to implement these priority projects. Implementation of priority projects will improve water quality, forest health, air quality and fish and wildlife habitat around Lake Tahoe.
The bill would:
• Authorize $135 million over 10 years for hazardous fuels reduction projects to reduce the threat of fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin and create incentives for local communities to have dedicated funding for defensible space inspections and enforcement, according to the release.
• Allocate $30 million dollars to watercraft inspections and removal of existing invasive species and requires all watercraft be inspected to prevent the introduction of invasive aquatic species in accordance with the Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan.
• Spend $20 million over 10 years for the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan. The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is an iconic species that has an important historic legacy in Lake Tahoe.
• Authorize $30 million over 10 years for scientific programs and research that will produce information on long-term trends in the basin and inform the most cost-effective projects.
• Prevent the start of any mining operations in the basin, ensuring the fragile watershed and Lake Tahoe’s water clarity are not threatened by pollution from mining operations.
All projects funded by the legislation would have monitoring and assessment in order to determine the most cost-effective projects and best management practices for future projects. The legislation also requires an annual report to Congress detailing the status of all projects undertaken including project scope, budget and justification as well as overall expenditures and accomplishments, according to the release.
Signage would be required on federally financed projects in order to improve public awareness of restoration efforts. In addition, the bill would create a public outreach and education program to encourage basin residents and visitors to implement defensible space to limit wildfire risk; to implement best management practices for water quality protection; and to take actions to prevent the introduction and proliferation of invasive species.
Under the legislation, the U.S. Forest Service would have increased flexibility to exchange land with state and local entities allowing for more cost-efficient management of public land. Currently, the Forest Service manages more than 3,200 urban parcels spread throughout the Basin.
Since the initial Lake Tahoe Restoration Act became law in 2000, improvements have included fuels reduction treatment of 54,444 acres; wildlife habitat improvements on 15,850 acres of land, including 1,509 acres of Stream Environment Zones; acquisition of 3,103 acres of sensitive land and improvements to 577 miles of roadways to prevent sediment from entering the lake; addition of 2,579 linear feet of shoreline for public access; and creation of 134 miles of bike and pedestrian routes.
“I strongly believe we have a duty to protect Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful and pristine spots in our country,” Feinstein stated in the release. “Even in times of fiscal austerity, we cannot ignore the natural wonders that define our country. Lake Tahoe continues to suffer from pollution and sedimentation that reduces the lake’s remarkable water clarity, the potential for devastating wildfires remains high and a variety of invasive species threaten to devastate the region’s economy.