Near and unclear: Officials concerned about clarity of Lake Tahoe’s near shore
LAKE TAHOE andamp;#8212; As a plan to return Lake Tahoe to historic levels of clarity moves forward, concerns persist about whether the part of the lake visitors and residents are most familiar with andamp;#8212; the near shore andamp;#8212; has received enough attention.Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the governors of both Nevada and California signed off on the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load.The goal of the plan is to return the lake to nearly 100 feet of clarity within 65 years by dramatically reducing the amount of fine sediment and algae-fueling nutrients entering the lake.Claire Fortier, South Lake Tahoe city councilwoman and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board member, said the plan includes too much focus on what’s happening in the center of the lake and not on the part that most affects the economy and people’s daily lives. The city council expressed similar concerns in a March letter to state water quality regulators.andamp;#8220;When is the last time you actually took a swim in the middle of the lake?andamp;#8221; Fortier asked Friday.
There is no doubt that near-shore water quality has declined, said John Reuter, associate director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. Exact reasons for the drop, as well as the most effective ways to stop it, remain unclear, Reuter said.Invasive plant and animal species, storm water runoff and algae growth have all played roles in the decline, he said.andamp;#8220;We’re seeing all of that, we’re seeing a lot of reports about people finding algae that’s broken up, brown water and all of these things,andamp;#8221; Reuter said.The research center and NASA recently completed a study using remote sensing equipment to measure near-shore water quality at Lake Tahoe. The study found clarity generally improves as one moves away from shore and is consistently lower on the East and South shores.andamp;#8220;The eastern side of the lake, particularly from Stateline Point in the north to the eastern end of South Lake Tahoe, consistently shows the lowest Secchi depth values (lowest transparency),andamp;#8221; according to the research center’s 2011 State of the Lake report.Additionally, from May to June, the region just south of Glenbrook to Stateline, Nev., on the South Shore, ranged from 45 feet to 53 feet of clarity. Measurements around Rubicon in California ranged from 60 to 63 feet during the same period of time.Reasons for the differences are being studied, andamp;#8220;but it appears to be closely linked to the patterns of water movements around the lake,andamp;#8221; according to the report.The report finds no statistically significant long-term trend when it comes to the amount of attached algae around Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, but says greater amounts of algae near more urban study sites has been dramatic year after year.
This connection between algae growth and urban areas is one reason why implementation of the TMDL is expected to improve near-shore quality, said Lauri Kemper, associate director of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.A major focus of the plan is reducing the amount of fine sediment and nutrients entering the lake from urban areas. Many of these pollutants spill directly into the near shore via storm water outlets and tributaries. While the TMDL is designed to improve deep-water clarity, reducing the total amount of nutrients and fine sediment reaching the lake should also improve near-shore water quality, Kemper said.Studies are under way to help researchers and policy makers gain a better understanding of near shore water quality decline.Fortier said she is concerned the link between the TMDL and improving the near shore hasn’t been proven and that research surrounding the near shore could take 10 years and millions of dollars before arriving at an answer.andamp;#8220;It sometimes just blows me away we’ve spent so much time looking at the middle of the lake and not where people touch, look and see,andamp;#8221; Fortier said, noting the importance of the near shore to the lake’s tourist economy.Methods for controlling near-shore problems, like invasive plants, are available, Fortier said, and need to be implemented as soon as possible. Even remedies like draining the Tahoe Keys over winter to eliminate its invasive plants populations should be considered, Fortier said.
While the research surrounding Lake Tahoe’s near shore may never be complete, Reuter said he hopes the research center can present a better understanding of near-shore quality decline within the next six to 12 months.Following the studies, TRPA, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and the Lahontan Water Board expect to develop specific means for improving near-shore water quality lake wide, according to Lahontan documents.Still, Fortier said she is concerned at the pace of progress and is worried the studies will drag on while near-shore water quality continues to degrade. The near shore is andamp;#8220;criticalandamp;#8221; to truly improving the health of Lake Tahoe, Fortier said.andamp;#8220;If you’re not clearing water clarity at the near shore, you’re not solving the problem,andamp;#8221; Fortier said.
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