Placer County continues to explore a possible alcohol ban on the Truckee River, spurred by excessive public drunkenness, litter, nudity and traumatic injuries over the Fourth of July holiday.
“We have to do something, at least on the Fourth of July weekend,” said Placer County District 5 Supervisor Bruce Kranz. “Everybody recognizes that it’s not good.
“Some people are being proper, but where it’s gotten totally out of control, we want to deal with those problems,” he added.
Nearly twice as many people rafted the Truckee River this Fourth of July compared to the previous year. According to Placer County’s environmental health department, more than 1,100 rafts with 2,000 people aboard floated the three-and-a-half mile stretch of river from Tahoe City to the River Ranch between noon and 2 p.m.
Kranz and others suspect that this year’s debauchery was due in part to the newly enforced alcohol restrictions at Sacramento County’s American River Parkway, causing a displacement of rafting revelers to Lake Tahoe.
Local business owners spoke before the Placer Board of Supervisors last month at a meeting in Tahoe requesting the county consider outlawing alcohol on the Truckee River shoreline and waterways for the Fourth of July holiday.
The county will not pursue a summer-long prohibition because the demand on resources would be “astronomical,” Kranz said.
But a matter of jurisdiction complicates the planning of any local ban.
In the case of the Truckee River, an alcohol ban on the shoreline would require an order from the U.S. Forest Service, and drinking restrictions on the waterway would require state legislation. The Sacramento drinking ban was approved by the California Legislature.
County staff is currently looking into the logistics of procuring and implementing a holiday alcohol prohibition.
But enforcement, too, could prove difficult.
“One of the challenges, though, is it takes all our resources,” said the Forest Service’s Don Lane, recreation forester with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “We have the whole Basin to concern ourselves with. Any additional need for Forest Service presence on the Truckee River has got us extremely concerned about our limitations.”
Placer County staff plan to return to the board of supervisors in October with information to either move forward in pursuing the holiday prohibition or not.
“What we’re going to look into is, if we work with the Forest Service on the land side and the state on the water side, what can we do in our authority?” said Jennifer Merchant, the Tahoe manager for Placer County’s chief executive office. “Or, would we need to defer to the Forest Service and the state to enforce [a ban]?”
Beyond the busy July holiday, many say the rest of the summer is “manageable.” County, commercial rafting and law enforcement officials, among others, say they would support a Fourth of July alcohol ban.
“We’d be happy,” said Judy Bell, co-owner of Truckee River Rafting with Mountain Air Sports. “It gets too out of hand and we have a lot of families and it’s not safe for the families with inebriated [people] on the river. It just makes it more congested … and they block the path for other people.”
Rescue personnel, too, think the community could benefit from sobriety on the Truckee River.
“Because alcohol is a common denominator, I would guess that banning it would reduce the number of emergencies,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Duane Whitelaw. “When we’re down there on the river, we’re not somewhere else helping somebody else. It takes vital services away from others in potentially greater need.”
Some community discussion has compared a holiday prohibition to a Band-Aid, but even the gas stations that profit from alcohol and raft sales say the ban is a smart idea.
“I would support it because of the trash,” said Karen Wencke, assistant manager at the Tahoe City Store. “They come up here and totally disregard ” they leave cans, bottles and even the rafts.”