Senate approves Tahoe funds; House the next stop | SierraSun.com
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Senate approves Tahoe funds; House the next stop

MARY THOMPSON and KEITH SHEFFIELD, Sun News Service

Tahoe’s $300 million Restoration Act cleared a major hurdle as it was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate Oct. 5.

However, that money won’t be coming to the basin anytime soon.

The bill, which vows to bring $30 million a year over the next 10 years to pay for Lake Tahoe restoration projects, still must pass the House and be signed by the president before being activated.

Even if it makes it through the required political ranks, Lake Tahoe’s funding won’t be guaranteed.

“The language in the bill is an authorization of funds, not an appropriation,” said Linda Massey, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“So if it passes, congress must still appropriate those funds.”

The $300 million is a crucial funding element of the Environmental Improvement Program – a collaborative effort by the private sector and local, state and federal governments to save Lake Tahoe from environmental degradation, notably declining clarity.

Authorization by both sides of the House will make appropriating the money easier, Reid said Tuesday in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

“I’ve struggled to get money for three years,” Reid added. “(The authorization) will make it easier for me.”

Tahoe’s Restoration Act still has to pass through the House with only a number of days left in legislative session.

“We did pretty well, but it still has to pass the House,” he said.

However, Reid has appropriated $20 million in the last two years for environmental projects in the basin aimed at saving the lake’s clarity.

Studies have shown that Tahoe has been losing its remarkable transparency at the rate of about 1 foot each year for the last 30 years.

The projects outlined in the $908 million Environmental Improvement Program aims to stop the clouding by 2007, a date when scientists believe damages to Lake Tahoe become irreversible.

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., will pay almost one-third of the project costs.

As a federal agency and largest land owner in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Forest Service would be responsible for administering the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act funds.

The bill requires the Forest Service to develop a priority list of environmental improvement projects and authorizes $200 million over the next 10 years to carry out these projects on federal lands. The bill also authorizes $100 million over the next 10 years to local governments for erosion control projects.

“It should be a month or more until the priority list is finished,” the Forest Service’s Massey said. “It will include projects for restoration, forest health, recreation and transportation.”

About $1 million each year for the next 10 years is also earmarked for MTBE cleanup.

The fuel additive MTBE has contaminated and closed 12 out of the 34 drinking wells in the South Tahoe Public Utility District, Lake Tahoe’s largest water purveyor.

Dennis Cocking, the utility’s spokesman, said the funding won’t cure the problem but will help draw attention to the magnitude of the contamination.

“It brings a national focus on environmental issues in the Tahoe Basin and that’s a plus for the future of protecting the clarity of the lake and other environmental issues,” Cocking said. “We’re encouraging the house to move forward and push this thing through – this is significant legislation for Tahoe.”


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