We owe it to Donner Lake to be responsible | SierraSun.com

We owe it to Donner Lake to be responsible

When 13 years ago I first passed through Truckee heading east on I-80, I thought I had had enough of California. I never dreamed I would return.

I had been living in Carmel Valley where the weather had been too consistently wonderful for my fair skin and love of the seasons. Too many subordinates had called in sick to go surfing. One time more than I could bear, someone had asked about my astrological sign before asking me my name. I missed my family and the northeastern lake I grew up on. I was driving back. Kelly, my black lab, was with me.

I remember that, as I approached the Nevada stateline, eager to cover ground, I looked out the window of my overstuffed car and saw Donner Lake, dazzling in the sun, cradled by the majestic Sierra I had previously never seen.

“Wow,” I thought. “There is fresh water in California. Maybe I could live here. Maybe we (Kelly and I) should swim.”

I dismissed the thoughts and left Donner behind for others to enjoy. I couldn’t wait to get home.

Home, at that time, was a private oasis called Taconic Lake. One and a quarter miles around, spring-fed with no fuel-powered motors allowed, Taconic Lake sits just inside New York State where Massachusetts, Vermont and New York come together. For as long as I can remember, it was the cleanest lake in New York State.

For six months, while the weather held, Kelly and I rejoiced daily in the water of Taconic Lake. Yes, I had to work an hour away, but I swam before work, before the sun came up, worked until two and was swimming again by three. I’d usually swim again before dinner and once again before bed. Life was grand and my skin looked great. Kelly, who always swam by my side, was in the best shape of his life.

After a dry winter season, Tahoe called my name. I moved here for a ski season, so the story goes.

Ten years later, Truckee is my home. Kelly and his successor Ian, a legendary chocolate retriever, have saddened me with their deaths.

Mousse, the chocolate mutt-goof-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with, is the dog who will soon swim in Donner beside me after I finish my run each morning. Mousse will join me in the water again in the afternoons. Dogs and immersion in clean water are two of my life’s greatest joys.

But in the past 10 years, my joys have often been tainted with sorrows, like with the deaths of my dogs, my swimming companions.

I was mortified to learn two years ago that the Taconic Lake Association doesn’t allow dogs in Taconic Lake any more. Even if I wanted to go back, I wouldn’t. But not because of the dog thing – if a dog wants to swim, a dog’s going to swim – but because Taconic Lake has, in my opinion, been destroyed.

About six years ago, a beaver pair settled on Taconic Lake. Some say beavers mate for life. If a beaver loses a mate, I’ve heard it said, it might not mate again. I’ve never verified these stories; I like their romance. I like these stories the way they are.

In the history of mankind, beavers had peacefully lived on Taconic Lake before, but some property owners decided that these two and their young were potentially dangerous. They were also potentially carrying giardia. Property values could suffer.

The beavers had to go, these people decided. So one spring weekday, when few of the 35 homes on the lake were occupied, a man used a shotgun to remove one beaver from the lake. Well, a serious violation had occurred, apparently, because you can’t just shoot and kill a beaver in New York State, even if you are on private property. Witnesses, however, agreed to keep silent about the violation if the other beaver and its young were treated with more respect for life, so the story goes.

A trapper was hired. And the trapper said, so the story goes:

“You can’t trap a beaver to get rid of it. Beaver always come back, no matter from how far. Only one way to legally rid yourselves of that beaver. Oil. You get a beaver with oil. Won’t give you any more trouble, guaranteed.”

Shortly thereafter, in the early hours of the morning, a huge oil spill appeared on Taconic Lake, nearly covering its entire surface. The remaining beavers died. So did fish and community relations and respect for others.

Taconic Lake is no longer the cleanest lake in New York State and my sense of friendship with some there has been replaced by a sense of distrust and disbelief.

How could anyone be so stupid as to think that a polluted lake would be better for property values than a lake in which wildlife rejoiced?

Allowing two-stroke engines on Donner Lake is not so far off from the poisoning that occurred at Taconic Lake, in my opinion. It is a verifiable fact that unburned fuel is discharged from these engines into the water. It is a verifiable fact that unburned fuel is hazardous to aquatic life. It is a verifiable fact that Donner’s aquatic life enters the food chain and, so the story goes, food-chain hazards compound.

Quality of life is compromised when the environment becomes hazardous to its inhabitants and benefactors.

We say it to drug-abusers, gamblers, nymphos and thieves:

“At some point, we have to sacrifice our immediate pleasures if satisfying them becomes ethically irresponsible.”

So why not say the same to the owners of two-stroke engines?

Keeping Donner’s water clean is a decision to respect life and life, so the story goes, is precious. As residents of Truckee, we are responsible for this irreplaceable gem.

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