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EPA head attends Tahoe summit

Jill Wood, Sun News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got a first-hand view Tuesday of why scientists think it will take a lot of green to keep Lake Tahoe blue.

Christie Todd Whitman joined federal and state lawmakers aboard a research boat to check the lake’s famed clarity, then spoke at the Lake Tahoe Restoration Summit at Zephyr Cove Resort. The gathering was a follow-up to the presidential summit in 1997, which drew President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Tuesday’s gathering lacked a president but brought a presidential promise.

“(Lake Tahoe) is an extraordinary treasure. But this crystal water faces a number of threats. The environmental challenges we face inspire a collaboration of all levels of government,” Whitman said. “The federal government played a role in protecting this lake, and I can assure you this administration will continue that kind of investment.”

Tahoe suffers from both air and ground-level pollution, caused by such factors as soil erosion, storm-water runoff and increased traffic emitting particles that eventually end up in the lake, scientists warn.

Nearly $23 million in funding was appropriated this year for the $300 million Lake Tahoe Restoration Act U.S. Sens. Harry Reid and Dianne Feinstein authored. The funding awaits the results of a House-Senate conference committee.

The law represents the federal government’s financial pledge to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s $908 million environmental improvement program.

“I think it’s a real commitment from the Bush Administration for their going forward with what we need to do at the lake,” U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said, adding the lake’s protection knows no partisan boundaries.

The Democrat sponsored the summit with U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who dictated three distinct goals of the partnership: to identify projects that are “absolutely critical” and to ensure those projects are scientifically driven. He also urged lawmakers and about 50 agencies to work together in developing programs like the California Tahoe Conservancy’s Truckee Marsh wetland project in South Lake Tahoe and the city’s Park Avenue Redevelopment project at Stateline.

During the 40-minute trip aboard the University of California, Davis research boat, UCD lake expert Charles Goldman conducted experiments.

The white secchi disc was lowered to indicate what all concerned with the environmental nature of the lake have come to know. It’s losing its remarkable clarity. Estimates from previous readings have indicated the lake has lost over a foot of clarity annually over the last 30 years.

The disc was spotted at 19 meters – a typical reading, the scientist said.

With the monies and follow-through on funding projects, Goldman said he believes the lake’s cloudiness can be reduced in the next 30 years.

Ironically, the increased levels of nutrients creating more algae makes the lake biologically richer, said John Reuter, the acting director of the UCD Tahoe Research Group.


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