Boaters likely to see changes in Donner inspection program
Watercraft inspection stations around the Tahoe area are closed to keep workers safe during the outbreak of COVID-19.
While boaters at the area’s bodies of water are used to making stops each season to have their vessel inspected for aquatic invasive species such as quagga mussels, those that launch into Donner Lake will likely see a change in protocol toward self-inspecting their vessels.
At its meeting on Tuesday, April 14, Truckee Town Council members heard a trio of recommendations regarding the program and its fiscal impacts moving forward.
The first option would keep the program as is, but would mean the town pay roughly $162,000 for its responsibility toward the watercraft inspection station, along with additional costs for subsidizing staff members, stickers, and water testing.
The second option would also maintain the program at full operation, but would increase the fees for boaters to reflect those at Lake Tahoe. This option would cost the town an estimated $98,000.
The third option would require boaters to complete a Donner Lake self-inspection permit similar to what is in place at Boca and Stampede reservoirs.
Ultimately, town staff indicated that there was a lack of general funds for the first two options, and due to financial uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the Town Council elected to go with the option of self inspections, which will cost an estimated $13,000 for the 2020 boating season.
Vice Mayor Anna Klovstad was the lone council member to vote against option three, raising issues of lake health and asking to be given choices on other budget items to potentially cut.
Council member Jessica Abrams wasn’t present for the vote.
In 2012, the Town Council adopted an ordinance to address the issue of aquatic invasive species, which included a requirement of mandatory watercraft inspections for Truckee water bodies including Donner Lake, Glenshire Pond, and the Truckee River. Truckee’s aquatic invasive species program was later launched in 2014, and at the time, awarded a pair of grants for quagga and zebra mussel infestation prevention, which totaled $600,000.
The first grant was designated to be used for personnel and associated costs to operate the watercraft inspection facility, education and outreach, and the installation of a gate at the Donner Lake Public boat ramp. The town later determined the gate was not supported by the public, and allocated the funds to operation expenses.
The second grant was designated to conduct watercraft inspections, facilitate construction of a new inspection and decontamination station, implement outreach and education activities, conduct early detection monitoring, and implement enforcement activities. It was later determined that the site selected for the inspection facility was not properly zoned for such use, and the town returned funding allocated for construction back to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Division of Boating and Waterways.
Both of the grants covered Truckee’s aquatic invasive species program, which included cost sharing of roughly $370,000 with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Tahoe Resource Conservation District through 2018. The following year the town wasn’t able to secure funding for the program and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency stepped in to fund the 2019 boating season. The town contributed by subsidizing the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District to staff the public boat ramp at Donner Lake seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. The town also paid for Donner Lake inspection stickers, and paid to test lake water. Since the program’s inception, no quagga mussels have been found in Donner Lake.
Truckee is not eligible for new quagga and zebra mussel grants, according to the town staff report, due to the town not having a valid mitigation plan. In 2018, the state changed requirements for mitigation plans, and the town’s became invalid.
Tuesday’s council meeting
Ahead of this Tuesday’s town council meeting, staff is introducing an amendment regarding the aquatic invasive species program.
According to the amendment, self-inspection for boaters shall occur prior to a watercraft being launched into a water body within Truckee for the first time in a season, unless the watercraft bears a current season Lake Tahoe inspection sticker, or if a watercraft has been on a body of water outside of Truckee, other than Lake Tahoe.
Prior to launching without a current season Lake Tahoe or Donner inspection sticker, boaters will have to submit a self-inspection form to Truckee and obtain an inspection sticker for their watercraft.
“By allowing watercraft owners to self-inspect, we are further educating and empowering watercraft owners to complete more routine inspections of their vessels to detect (aquatic invasive species) earlier and more often,” said a recommendation to the Town Council from Police Chief Robert Leftwich.
Upon opening this season, the staff at all three Donner Lake boat launches will continue to check for current inspection stickers, and watercraft won’t be allowed to launch without a current Donner or Tahoe sticker. Watercraft Inspection sites around Tahoe aren’t expected to open until late May or early June.
The ordinance update will be taken up by the Town Council at its meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will be broadcast by Tahoe Truckee Media at http://www.ttctv.org.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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