Clinton signs $300 million Tahoe restoration act
President Clinton signed the bill Monday that authorizes Congress to spend $300 million over the next 10 years for Lake Tahoe environmental projects.
The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, approved by the House and Senate earlier this month, is a key funding source in the Environmental Improvement Program – a $908 million effort by the private sector and local, state and federal governments to stop Lake Tahoe’s environmental degradation by 2007, when it is believed damages will become irreversible.
The program aims to stop Lake Tahoe from losing its famed clarity, which scientists believe has been declining at the rate of about a foot each year for the last 30 years. Erosion caused by increasing urbanization has been blamed for the decline.
The federal government, slated to kick in $297.2 million of the total project costs, has committed about $50 million since the program started in 1997.
According to records kept by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the lake’s bistate regulating authority, federal funding has trickled in slowly when compared to California’s and Nevada’s efforts to pay for and implement projects on both sides of the state line.
Juan Palma, TRPA executive director, said the legislation shows that the federal government intends to make good on its commitment. The bill came about after the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Summit held at several lake locations which brought national attention to the lake’s significance.
“The federal partnership is a critical piece of the puzzle,” Palma said. “It’s the key to let us in the door but we still have a little work to do to get the money.”
The money, which is not a guaranteed funding source, will still have to be appropriated through the annual budget process.
The bill requires the Forest Service, which owns 77 percent of the basin’s land, to develop a project priority list. The federal agency will be authorized $200 million to be spent over 10 years on projects on federal lands and $100 million to local governments for erosion control projects around the lake.
The Forest Service hopes to have the list out for public review by the end of the year.
“The bill has passed and we’re working on the list,” said Forest Service spokeswoman Linda Massey. “But that doesn’t mean that the money is in hand.”
But supporters of the bill, which come from different factions of the Lake Tahoe community including environmental groups, gaming alliances and members of the business community, have said they are confident the money will come Lake Tahoe’s way.
“It’s not guaranteed but if we fight as hard for the money as we fought for the bill then we’ll be OK,” said Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.
Wallace, who has traveled twice to the nation’s capital to lobby for the bill, said the legislation has broken bipartisan barriers.
“The support of this bill has crossed the party lines – it took both sides of the delegation to make it happen and I think we set the example for them by showing that if we could work together at the local level for the betterment of Lake Tahoe then so could they,” Wallace said. “It’s the right thing to do for the lake.”
Introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act has rallied support from all of the lake’s political representatives and bridged often opposing forces at the lake’s shores – the gambling establishments and environmental advocates.
“We recognize the importance of the environment,” said Steve Teshara, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance. “We are being asked to be partners in restoring and preserving Lake Tahoe and it’s important in that context that we are leaders in the private sector effort.”
The League to Save Lake Tahoe, the lake’s oldest environmental organization, agrees.
“This is good news, it’s definitely been the work of a lot of people,” said Heidi Hill Drum, the league’s communications director. “This is something we are all together on.”
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