Leaders pledge Lake Tahoe restoration will go on | SierraSun.com

Leaders pledge Lake Tahoe restoration will go on

Adam Jensen
Sun News Service

Jonah M. Kessel/Sun News ServiceSen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., looks out into a packed audience during the Lake Tahoe Summit on Saturday morning. Feinstein has put in a $1.5 million funding request for a biomass plant in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Sustaining the momentum established in 1997 was a major theme of the 12th annual Lake Tahoe Summit in South Lake Tahoe on Saturday.

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore hosted the summit that year and sparked a decade long, more than $1 billion public private partnership ” known as the Environmental Improvement Program ” to restore Lake Tahoe’s waning clarity and environmental health.

Today, approximately $700 million is committed to continue the Environmental Improvement Program for another 10 years, but $1.8 billion is still needed to carry the program into its second decade, according to figures from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the organization charged with setting policy for the basin.

“I believe we’re at a critical crossroads,” U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told hundreds in the crowd at the scenic shoreline Valhalla Estate on Saturday . “Fail to act, and what’s been accomplished will be lost.”

Feinstein and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act as part of the efforts to maintain the Environmental Improvement Program.

Approved in 2000, the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act gave $300 million in federal funding for the efforts to restore the lake, but a reauthorization is necessary to sustain those efforts past 2009.

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“Special scrutiny” will be paid to the reauthorization of the act ” which could be introduced into the Senate as early as January ” to ensure it’s components will be effective in protecting Lake Tahoe’s environment, Feinstein said.

Wording of a reauthorization has yet to be developed, but Feinstein expects the funding level of the act to stay approximately the same.

Also at Saturday’s summit, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne approved more than $140 million under Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act Round Nine.

The act gives the proceeds from federal land sales around Las Vegas to projects throughout the state of Nevada, as well as the entire Lake Tahoe Basin.

Round nine includes $24 million for Lake Tahoe restoration projects and a $30 million set aside for the continuation of the Environmental Improvement Program, according to a statement from Kempthorne.

The $24 million for restoration projects includes $19 million for watershed and habitat improvement, $270,000 for air quality and transportation, more than $500,000 for recreation and scenic, and $3,750,000 for science and research, indicates the statement.

The $30 million set aside will fund future rounds to ensure that the full $300 million federal funding commitment will be met for the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement program, according to the statement.

Round Nine funding also includes $6.6 million for hazardous fuel reduction protects at Lake Tahoe.