Research group plans to build new lab, hatchery |

Research group plans to build new lab, hatchery

NORTH SHORE -Bark-sided with a steep pitched roof shabbily shingled, the cavernous building which houses the University of California, Davis Tahoe Research Group has been a part of Tahoe’s history since 1920.

Here was one of the first fish hatcheries in the eastern Sierra for the state Department of Fish and Game, even providing a summer’s employment for John Steinbeck.

It was here that the infamous spill occurred that introduced the Kokanee salmon into Lake Tahoe during the 1950s.

It was here that a young UC Davis professor got his start as the foremost researcher into the limnology of Lake Tahoe; 30 years later Dr. Charles Goldman described the lake’s declining clarity to President Clinton and Vice president Gore.

Yet, despite the history associated with the former fish hatchery building at the corner of Lake Forest Road and Highway 28, it is woefully inadequate for the research being conducted inside it.

The Tahoe Research Group’s field lab director, Bob Richards, says that Goldman ruefully notes that first-class research is being done in a third-world facility.

The University of California, Davis plans to change the Tahoe Research Group’s quarters through an $8 million plan to build the Lake Tahoe Center for Environmental Research.

Plans are for the center to include a new building with laboratories and offices for the study of air quality, forest health, water quality and other Tahoe issues.

The current fish hatchery building will be renovated into a environmental education center with a library, student laboratory, docent program and lecture hall.

“For the first time ever, we would have different environmental disciplines together,” Richards said.

Because of its historic and architectural value, the fish hatchery will be renovated, but remain the same structurally and keep its unique scissor-beam construction.

UC Davis’ plans were presented to the public in a forum Tuesday at Granlibakken.

UC Davis is in the midst of an effort to raise $12 million – $8 million for construction and a $4 million endowment for maintenance and operation. So far, $4 million to $5 million has been raised, Richards said.

The university is working against a Dec. 31 deadline, however, because a $1 million challenge grant has been offered if $7 million can be raised by the end of the year.

$2 million donation

The Longs Foundation has committed $2 million to renovate the fish hatchery into a public education center.

Where the research center will be located is still not known, since most of the six acres the Tahoe Research Group owns is in wetlands area.

Although the coverage is grandfathered with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, there may not be enough room to add another building even if the small blue houses around the fish hatchery are torn down.

Richards said UC Davis also owns land across Lake Forest Road which could be used if necessary.

Once built, the research building will house several more researchers, as well as graduate students.

Now there are only five full-time scientists at the Tahoe Research Group. They work out of three small rooms constructed within the huge open room that used to house the fish hatchery.

“The size of the office doesn’t necessarily correlate with the size of the research that comes out of it,” Richards said. He jokes that the Tahoe Research Group could probably boast more Ph.ds per square foot than any other lab.

Because the lab is so small, the staff must spend a lot of time to ensure that its work is not compromised. Some water samples also have to be sent to UC Davis because of the Tahoe lab’s size.

“We take precautions to make sure we don’t compromise water quality samples. We spend an inordinate amount of time taking precautions,” Richards said.

The Tahoe Research Group’s work is widely recognized and has formed the basis of many of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s policies.

After the Presidential Forum of 1997, the University of Nevada, Reno also announced plans to try to build a research lab in Tahoe, possibly at the Whittell Estate on the East Shore.

“The problems that need solving are greater than any one institution can handle,” Richards said, noting that the researchers will complement each other.

According to the Tahoe Research Group, Lake Tahoe is losing clarity at 1.5 feet per year from increased algae that feeds on pollution. The lake has only 10 to 15 years before irreversible damage is done.

The University of California, Davis has been seeking a new location for the Tahoe Research Group since the 1970s, but has not found appropriate land available.

Two years ago, the university was able to acquire the fish hatchery parcel from the state Department of Fish and Game.

Acquiring the land, as well as the Presidential Forum, provided the push for the university to begin a fund-raising campaign.

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