Report shows Tahoe environment improving |

Report shows Tahoe environment improving

Lake Tahoe is clearer, streams in the basin are being restored, and special wildlife habitat became more abundant over the last five years, according to an assessment of the Tahoe Basin’s environment by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The bistate planning agency heralded the report Thursday as proof that the basin is beginning to heal the wounds of past environmental missteps.

“The environmental mistakes that we made from the ’50s to the ’70s, I think we are turning the corner in addressing those,” said Julie Regan, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokeswoman.

The five-year snapshot of Tahoe’s environment showed improvement in 21 of the 36 environmental indicators, which include water quality, air quality and wildlife habitat.

“We’re on the right track,” said Regan. “But we have a lot of work to do.”

Yet, improvement did not imply that the standards were fully achieved. The report outlines the work left to be done for 21 of the agency’s 36 environmental standards that are classified under “non-attainment.” The status of another four goals is “unknown,” meaning that just 11 of the 36 measures are in full compliance.

Regan said the agency plans to beef up its scientific monitoring under the agency’s new regional plan, expected to be adopted in late 2008.

“I think a key element of our next regional plan through Pathway, is a much more robust scientific backbone,” said Regan.

The increased scientific research should help the agency pin down environmental indicators whose status is “unknown,” she said.

Although the report showed progress, it was not all good news. Two measurements of air quality ” particulate matter and carbon monoxide ” slipped into “non-attainment” over the last five years.

But perhaps the bright spot of the report was the improvement of water quality since 1998.

That water-quality trend is expected to continue, since a dry winter means reduced water runoff and therefore lower erosion levels, said Heather Segale, education and outreach coordinator for UC Davis, which regularly measures the clarity of Lake Tahoe.

The clarity of the lake is measured both toward the middle of the lake ” where it is mostly affected by runoff ” and along the shoreline ” where it is affected by algae, said Segale.

Segale said the university waits for a clarity pattern to develop over five years before even investigating whether it is a trend, since many factors affect whether the lake is clearer one year over the other.

Regan said the recent report highlights the good environmental work that has been done around the basin, such as the 10-year-old effort to filter runoff before it reaches Lake Tahoe. But it also underscores the need to continue pushing for a clearer lake, healthy habitat and cleaner air.

“We need this generational commitment to the lake,” said Regan. “It will take a long time to undo what’s been done.”

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