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Uncovering Tahoe’s Secrets

A few years ago, a Tahoe agency staffer remarked that trying to organize scientists was like herding cats. Why he was trying to organize scientists wasn’t clear. But, in spite of that observation, the cats have organized themselves.

For several decades, the only groups researching Tahoe’s nooks and crannies were the UC-Davis Tahoe Research Group and the Carson City office of the U.S. Geological Survey. With sparse financial support, these two groups did an amazing job of uncovering many of Tahoe’s secrets, and compiling data sets about Tahoe’s lake water clarity and stream characteristics that are considered to be invaluable today.

Still, there’s much more to learn about Tahoe’s lake and basin. That knowledge is critical for folks responsible for restoring the lake and watershed. Over the past decade, scientists from other organizations have joined in the effort to understand Lake Tahoe and its environment. The basin has profited greatly from the increased knowledge and breadth of expertise that this upsurge of activity has produced.



You might think that the natural competitiveness of scientific institutions would cause chaos. But, a few years ago, five institutions signed a memorandum of understanding that pledged cooperation and collaboration. An informal group of scientists from those institutions sought to provide advice to Tahoe’s agencies. It was a good idea, but it soon became apparent that a more formal organization would be necessary to identify what kinds of information could help Tahoe’s resource managers.

The result of that recognition is now taking up residence in the new Tahoe Center for Environmental Science on the Sierra Nevada College campus in Incline Village. It’s the Tahoe Science Consortium, formed as a partnership among the five institutions that do most of the research at Tahoe. They are the Desert Research Institute (DRI), University of California at Davis (UCD), University of Nevada at Reno, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station.



An executive committee consisting of the research executives of those institutions has an advisory role. Most of the work will be done by the consortium’s Executive Director and a Committee of Scientists, composed of two scientists from each of the participating institutions. UCD’s John Reuter and DRI’s Jim Thomas co-chair the committee. Zach Hymanson is the Executive Director. He’s a marine ecologist, with 15 years of research experience in the San Francisco Estuary, and he most recently served as Deputy Director for Science for the Cal-Fed Bay-Delta Program.

Two high priority efforts face the Committee of Scientists — develop a Tahoe Science Plan and form a peer review committee. The Science Plan, according to Hymanson, “won’t just cover research and monitoring. It will also deal with data management, data synthesis, and information communication ” getting the information in the hands of the managers and getting it to the places it needs to get to.

“This first year,” Hymanson explains, “is focused on developing research strategies. And we’re going about that by identifying theme areas. The idea is to identify science experts in each of those areas.

These experts are working with agency representatives to clarify agency information needs, identify what we do know, what the gaps are, and what the uncertainties are.

Then, they are to lay out the research that could address those gaps and uncertainties. Scientists and agency representatives will collaborate to set research priorities.

“We’re having a big workshop in October, and the main purpose of that workshop is to discuss emerging research strategies for each theme area, and to further educate people about what we’ve learned and what we think is important.

We’ll spend quite a bit of time getting feedback from agency and stakeholder representatives.”

The aim of the Peer Review Committee is to find outside experts, without conflicting interests, to review research proposals. Peer review is a key scientific process to insure that the proposed work has good scientific value, is relevant, and is well planned.

Peer review of completed work helps to confirm its validity and credibility. It is important for the integrity of Tahoe’s science.

On their side, Tahoe agencies have formed a Science Agency Coordination Committee composed of representatives of the agencies that will use the information developed by the scientists. This committee will work with the science community to guide research and monitoring.

And, shortly, there will be a Science Management Integration Team, composed of scientists and resource managers.

According to Hymanson, “it will have a big hand in prioritization of the research identified in the science strategies. It will also make sure that science and agency groups work collaboratively to complete annual updates of the science plan.

It will figure heavily in the adaptive management system.

“More than anything else,” Hymanson explains, “the consortium is trying to provide a point of communication and a point of collaboration for the science community, and then bring that voice of science and research to the management agencies.”

Questions or comments? Send them to basinwatch@sbcglobal.net


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