My Turn: Mixing the essential with the unnecessary
A Congressional bill, seeking $415 million over the next 10 years for Lake Tahoe protection and restoration, is authored and sponsored by California and Nevada’s four senators. The bill seeks funding for environmentally important programs, including watershed and wetlands restoration, stormwater management, hazardous natural fuels reduction, scientific research, and wildlife habitat improvement.
Announced three weeks before the annual Lake Tahoe Summit, it is the reintroduction of the failed Lake Tahoe Restoration Acts of 2009 and 2011. Unfortunately, the legislation still includes a silly provision: prevention of “the start of any mining operations in the basin, ensuring the fragile watershed and Lake Tahoe’s water clarity are not threatened by pollutions;” the problematic: $20 million to restore Lahontan cutthroat trout; and the unnecessary: $30 million for “watercraft inspections and the removal of existing invasive species.”
As anyone who has visited Lake Tahoe will attest, the possibility of starting a mining operation in the basin is equal to that of the lake freezing over. The reintroduction of Lahonton cutthroat trout is a laudable effort that has failed in the lake but has been successfully accomplished in some regional streams, including the Upper Truckee River, and to designate $2 million a year to restore the native fish to the regional fishery appears to be a misallocation of funding that could be better used for other wildlife projects.
The bill states: “watercraft [shall] not be allowed to launch in waters of the Lake Tahoe Basin if the watercraft (A) has been in waters infested by quagga or zebra mussels; (B) shows evidence of invasive species that the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Director has determined would be detrimental, to the Lake Tahoe ecosystem.”
Tahoe currently has the nation’s most aggressive boat inspection program. Its stated goal is to be self-sustaining, yet the 2013 Tahoe Restoration Act seeks $3 million dollars a year to help subsidize it. And last February the Lake Tahoe Federal Advisory Committee urged the Secretary of Agriculture to make it even tougher by increasing federal regulation and listing quagga mussels as injurious and aggressively increase the scope of local federal protections.
Never mind that every major quagga mussel study, including those done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Water Resources, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation conclusively says quagga can’t colonize in Lake Tahoe.
The Tahoe boat inspection program also seeks to prevent New Zealand mud snails (unable to survive in Tahoe because of the lake’s low conductivity), hydrilla (a warm water plant that needs an organic lake bottom), didymo (a single cell algae that can spread by birds, animals, and wet swimsuits), and spiny water fleas (a small, harmless crustacean that hasn’t been found west of the Rockies).
Everyone hopes the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2013 passes through Congress and helps fund the critically necessary protection and restoration programs it is primarily designed for — and eliminating, silly, problematic and unnecessary allocations would improve its chances.
Steve Urie is a Truckee resident.
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