Opinion: At Lake Tahoe, we must be fact-checking the scientists
In this unprecedentedly contentious election season, it is difficult to keep up with politicians’ extravagant claims, much less to find time to fact-check the claims by scientists entrusted to protect our health and Tahoe’s environment.
Nevertheless, the Sierra Sun’s Sept. 28 report, “Herbicide testing possible in Lake Tahoe by 2018,” regarding the Tahoe Keys on the South Shore demonstrates the type of subtle inaccuracies that slip by when leaders in any field want to change public perception or their positions.
The article reports: “Dr. Sudeep Chandra, a UNR professor, who specializes in aquatic ecosystems, agrees that it is necessary to use all available tools to combat the issue of invasive species.”
Chandra, who coauthored TRPA’s Implementation Plan for Control of AIS in 2015 said: “‘It’s a complex subject. … We know there is a problem and the Keys is at the heart of it. On the science side, we need to have as many tools to combat this as possible.’ At the time that Chandra’s implementation plan came out in June 2015, the use of herbicides was not an option.”
That is wrong. When Chandra released his AIS Implementation Plan for TRPA, he wrote: “While highly controversial, herbicides may provide a cost-effective means to limit the spread of watermilfoil, (but) disadvantages include restrictions to swimming, drinking water, and fishing.”
The same week he released his plan, for which TRPA paid him $150,000, he flipped sides and joined four other researchers, who contradicted his AIS Implementation Plan and told the public at the Tahoe Keys invasive weed control plan’s announcement: “Herbicides are toxic to plants. The converse is they are less risky to things that aren’t plants” — an obfuscation that is technically true, but greatly downplays the fact that herbicides are indeed toxic and risky. The Tahoe Keys POA paid the scientists $250,000 to conclude that herbicides will reduce weeds that “threaten the lake’s ecosystems, water clarity, and our recreation and economy,” but are “nontoxic to humans, fish and wildlife, and will not reach the lake.”
It was similarly dubious claims and promises, and the subjugation of Tahoe’s environmental and human health concerns to property owners’ amenity, aesthetics, and cost savings that last year turned most Basin residents against the Keys’ plan to use herbicides.
We are now told that in 2018, the Tahoe Keys POA will test three herbicides at half of the EPA-allowable concentration in eight percent of the Keys that are located in “the dead-end lagoons far from the lake.” Who is foolish enough to believe that if the tests fail that concentrations won’t be increased to full strength, and if they are successful, they will be used in waterways bordering the lake?
The summer of 2018 is also a sufficiently distant time that guarantees most will forget that before the Keys’ weed control plans were revealed, Chandra warned that aquatic herbicides will threaten swimming, fishing, and drinking water, but now claims that we must use all available tools to control nuisance weeds.
Steve Urie is a Truckee resident.