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Interior Sec. Babbit visits Tahoe

Andy Bourelle, Sun News Service

LAKE TAHOE – The new map of the floor of Lake Tahoe is almost done, and numerous officials – including U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt – came to Tahoe City on Wednesday for the unveiling of the latest information.

“We have about three more days of work, but we have about 85 percent of the map done,” said Michael V. Shulters, acting regional director of the U.S. Geological Survey. “We’ll do as much as we can before the time runs out. While we may not be 100 percent finished, we will have all the essentials.

Collecting information

USGS officials have been collecting data for the up-to-date, three-dimensional map since Aug. 3. The last time Lake Tahoe was mapped was in the 1920s.

Wednesday, officials gathered at the Tahoe City Marina, where Babbitt was taken out in the lake by the Inland Surveyor – the boat which gathered the information for the map – and then to the research group’s Mission Control. Babbitt was able to see the computer-generated map and, with a joystick, to fly through or “submarine” through the image.

The technology used on the project previously has been used for mapping ocean waters. This is the first time this type of technology has been used on an inland body of water.

“I’m doing this for the researchers in Lake Tahoe,” said James V. Gardner, USGS marine geologist and chief scientist on the project. “I’m bringing ocean technology to Lake Tahoe.”

The floor of Lake Tahoe is filled with sediment and, for the most part, flat. Previous studies only revealed two large peaks on the lake’s floor, Gardner said. However, the new map reveals several smaller peaks in addition to the two large peaks.

Additionally, the new map reveals Lake Tahoe to be 486 meters – or about 1,590 feet – deep. Previously, it had been believed the lake was slightly deeper.

Shulters said more facts revealed from the mapping will be forthcoming.

Jim Baetge, Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said the map will be a valuable asset in the fight to preserve Lake Tahoe. Baetge said the date could reinforce information currently used and help set priorities for which conservation projects should be started first.

Baetge said he was surprised at the level of detail the map reveals. It shows sediment deposits, underwater landslides and erosion detail. The map can be used to better predict the results of projects planned and underway, such as stream building.

Babbitt said he found the technology to be remarkable and expected it to have marvelous implications.

“We’re certain we’re taking the necessary steps to restore this lake,” he said. “We have to make sure we have all the facts.”

Babbitt said he thought the preservation efforts after the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe are moving in the right direction. He felt the vast collaboration between local, state and federal agencies was remarkable.

He described the conservation efforts as an intense “encounter between Nature and Humanity,” and the way it is dealt with will be an example for similar projects throughout the West.

When Nevada Sen. Harry Reid first proposed bringing President Clinton to Lake Tahoe, Babbitt said, it seemed like a “fanciful” idea. However, the summit did happen, and Babbitt said it was an important part of the process in getting federal help by having Clinton and Vice President Al Gore attend.

“That’s a big message to bureaucrats like me as to where this is on our list of priorities,” Babbitt said.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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