Basin bureaucracy spurs water board revisions | SierraSun.com

Basin bureaucracy spurs water board revisions

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

In light of strong criticism to the existing and often conflicting web of permitting in the Lake Tahoe Basin, state water quality officials are turning to the public for input on how it can better accommodate fuels reduction projects.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is looking to revise its tree-removal permit, known as a Timber Waiver, and its agreements with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

The ultimate goal is to remove a layer of bureaucracy and lighten the load of paperwork fuels-reduction projects have faced in the past, said Lauri Kemper, an engineer with the Lahontan board.

“It’s just going to simplify [the process] by having one less agency,” Kemper said. “And hopefully we still get the environmental protection because the [Tahoe Regional Planning Agency] has the same water quality rules that we do.”

Lahontan’s efforts to update its policies coincides with the California Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission’s recent statement that calls for local agencies to streamline the permitting process for fuels reduction projects.

John Pickett, operations manager for the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team, which works directly with Tahoe Basin fire chiefs to on fuels reduction projects, said that setting up a “one-stop shop” for permits will clear up confusion and get projects on the ground faster.

“We need one set of eyes,” Pickett said. “One professional and we’ll work with that person.”

But giving the TRPA the lead role in permitting should not leave out Lahontan’s input and expertise from the process, Pickett said, noting that the water board has an important responsibility given to them by the federal Clean Water Act.

“From my perspective, I’m not necessarily that keen to try to exclude a whole lot from Lahontan,” Pickett said. “In fact, I want them to work with us on this stuff.”

On complicated projects, Pickett said he expected the TRPA to consult Lahontan and collaborate on a single consensus.

“The permit will reflect Lahontan’s desires and it will reflect TRPA’s desires,” he said. “And so that’s the way I kind of see it working.”

Lahontan has existing agreements with the TRPA and the Forest Service, both of which are up for review this fall. The water board’s current agreement with the TRPA allows homeowners to submit one permit application for residential projects to the bi-state planning agency, Kemper said. Lahontan hopes to extend that agreement to include fuels reduction projects, so property owners would no longer have to apply separately to both agencies.

“We just want to eliminate duplication and redundancy,” said Dennis Oliver, TRPA spokesperson. “But the water board still performs many functions. In particular, providing all the research that is going to tell us what we need to do to restore lake clarity.”

Lahontan’s updated agreement with the Forest Service would also establish the TRPA as the lead permitting agency, according to a press release.

Kemper said the water board’s existing agreement with the Forest Service is focused on restoration and rehabilitation projects. They want to broaden that focus to include timber and fuels management projects.

“At this point, we’re updating these things to include fuels management because they weren’t in the two Memorandums of Understanding,” Kemper said.

By acknowledging the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency as the lead permitting agency for fuels reduction projects, Lahontan must also redefine its Timber Waiver policy within the Lake Tahoe Basin, which regulates “all timber harvest and vegetation management activities,” according the Lahontan documentation.

“It really is important to bring all three to the board at the same time because they’re all related,” Kemper said.