Homewood tackles Lake Tahoe clarity | SierraSun.com

Homewood tackles Lake Tahoe clarity

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

For almost 40 years the clarity of Lake Tahoe has spurred new legislation, created an agency and been a focal point for environmental concerns in the region.

But the way different entities have gone about preserving that clarity hasn’t been very well thought out, said Michael Hogan, soil scientist and president of Tahoe City-based Integrated Environmental Restoration Services.

“They’ve spent millions trying to reduce sediment but we don’t know if any of it worked ” there’s no monitoring,” Hogan said. “We’ve had regulations for 30 years or more and the lake has continued to degrade.”

The usual practice has been to spray hydromulch ” a slurry of seed, hay, and mulch ” to cover up eroding hillsides, assuming it will take root and stop runoff, he said.

“Hydromulch applied to current standards has as much runoff as untreated areas, we have the data that shows that,” Hogan said.

Now there is an emerging concept called total daily maximum load; the amount of pollution a body of water can take before being impaired.

And Hogan is applying this concept, along with different revegetation techniques, to Homewood Mountain Resort, in hopes of starting a new trend in water quality preservation around the lake.

“JMA’s acquired Homewood in 2006 and one of the first things decided was to address the long-standing environmental issues on the mountain,” said David Tirman, executive vice president with JMA Ventures.

The focus has been on revegetation of old mining roads, logging roads and trails that have been eroding into Lake Tahoe, Tirman said.

And now with the help of a $650,000 grant from the California State Water Resources Control Board, Homewood, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and Hogan’s Integrated Environmental Restoration Services are working together to treat portions of the 1,260-acre property.

The result is quantifiable reductions in sediment running off into Lake Tahoe, Hogan said.

“It’s pretty smart of Art [Chapman, president of JMA Ventures] because he wants to know if he’s getting his money’s worth with the erosion controls,” Hogan said.

So far, the results have been good, he said.

“We’ve been getting a 97 percent reduction in [sediment] load on areas we’ve treated. If we treat correctly, we can take the load down to zero,” Hogan said.

First, Hogan said they use machines to simulate rain coming down on the soil or washing over it to see how it responds.

Then, they till up the soil and plant to make the ground permeable, he said.

“In one project we had over 2,000 pounds of sediment per acre per inch of rain coming off,” Hogan said. “We went from 2,000 to zero.”

Hogan said he hopes that Homewood’s actions will instigate other ski resorts to follow suit, and said he thinks it will help the industry put a more environmentally-friendly face forward.

“People look at ski resorts and say, ‘that’s a travesty, that’s a scar,’ but Homewood may be able to show ski resorts can operate in an environmentally responsible manner,” Hogan said.

The techniques being used at Homewood could serve as an experiment for other property owners beyond ski resorts, said Rachael Woods, spokeswoman for Homewood Mountain Resort.

Tirman said the work will cover about 125,000 square feet over the course of two years, finishing up in 2009.

The next step for Homewood Mountain Resort’s development plans will be environmental review, said David Tirman of JMA Ventures, which could start with some public input workshops in August.

The review itself could take around 15 months, Tirman said, so if everything goes smoothly and the project wins all the necessary approvals, the project could break ground in 2010.

Plans for the north side of the resort include a hotel with up to 75 rooms, 56 condos, 12 workforce housing apartments, and 25,000 square feet of retail, while the south side could include up to 99 condominiums and 11 homes, according to skihomewood.com.