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Protecting Lake Tahoe

Creating a Sustainable Lake Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe Basin spans 505 square miles and hosts millions of visitors annually. Passed over as a candidate for a National Park in the early 1900’s due to a large percentage of property held privately, today, the United States government and other public agencies manage 87% of the land.

During the days of massive private ownership, the watersheds were heavily damaged. As hundreds of visitors quickly became thousands and then millions, the infrastructure that rapidly developed caused enormous damage to the environment. Repairing previous damage and protecting against future harm is what Tahoe’s Environmental Improvement Program (EIP) seeks to address. The Tahoe Fund is committed to increasing awareness of the environmental problems and the funding needed to correct them.

Feinstein Bill Protects, Restores Lake Tahoe
Author: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office
Published on Mar 2, 2011 – 8:46:19 AMWashington, D.C. March 2, 2011 – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2011, a bill that will restore Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Basin and protect the region from a number of threats. The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2011 authorizes projects that will:

  • Improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity.
  • Reduce risks for catastrophic wildfires.
  • Combat invasive species.
  • Protect threatened species and wildlands.

“Lake Tahoe truly is the Jewel of the Sierra, a treasure that we have a duty to protect,” said Senator Feinstein. “We have seen the effects of pollution and sedimentation on the fabled water clarity of Lake Tahoe. The potential for devastating wildfires increases every year that we fail to take action. And we continue to learn more about the danger posed by invasive species that could wreck the local economy.

“Fifteen years ago, we started a public-private partnership in Lake Tahoe that has led to significant environmental gains, including an improvement in Lake Tahoe’s famed clarity. This bill gives us the opportunity to continue to confront those challenges and make sure we that we do our best to preserve Lake Tahoe for generations to come.”

Senator Reid said: “Ever since I first visited Lake Tahoe, I have been committed to protecting this international treasure, even hosting the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997. The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act takes major steps to guard the Jewel of the Sierras against pollution, wildfire and invasive species while funding critical watershed restoration and Lahontan Cutthroat Trout recovery efforts. Not only will this legislation help maintain the clarity of the water and the health of the lands in the Basin, but it will safeguard the 23,000 tourism jobs in Nevada and California that we cannot afford to lose.”

Senator Ensign said: “Lake Tahoe is one of Nevada’s most treasured and admired natural wonders. It truly is one of the most prestigious and revered areas in the world, inviting people from all over to trek up the mountains and marvel at its majesty. The crisp, clear waters of Lake Tahoe provide numerous benefits to our state’s economy, and we need to make sure that it remains protected from environmental threats, such as wildfires and invasive species, that have the potential to muddle the unique clarity of the lake’s waters.

“The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act has been instrumental in ensuring that Lake Tahoe’s beauty is left intact for future generations to enjoy, just as we do today. This reauthorization will continue the progress that has been made in the past ten years for erosion control projects, ecosystem restoration, and the reduction of hazardous fuels and the threat of invasive species. By working hard to protect the beauty of Lake Tahoe today, we will all but guarantee that this area will continue to be a beautiful tourism destination for years to come.”

Senator Boxer said: “Lake Tahoe is one of California’s most magnificent treasures. Our bill builds on a decade of work to restore Lake Tahoe’s formerly crystal clear waters, reduce the threat of wildfires, and prevent the spread of harmful invasive species.”

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2011 continues the federal commitment at Lake Tahoe by authorizing $415 million over 10 years to improve water clarity, reduce the threat of fire, and restore the environment.

The bill does the following:

  • Restores Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Basin. The legislation authorizes $248 million over 10 years for the highest-priority restoration projects according to scientific data. The legislation authorizes at least $72 million for stormwater management and watershed restoration projects that are scientifically-determined to be the most effective ways to improve water clarity. The legislation also requires a prioritized ranking of environmental restoration projects and authorizes $136 million for the Lake Tahoe stakeholders to implement these priority projects. Priority projects will improve water quality, forest health, air quality and fish and wildlife habitat around Lake Tahoe.
  • Reduces the threat of wildfire in the Tahoe Basin. Authorizes $136 million over 10 years for hazardous fuels reduction projects to reduce the threat of fire in Lake Tahoe. It provides the Forest Service up to $10 million for fuels projects that have multiple environmental benefits with an emphasis in restoring Stream Environment Zones. It also creates incentives for local communities to have dedicated funding for defensible space inspections and enforcement.
  • Protects Lake Tahoe from the threat of Quagga mussels and other invasive aquatic species. The bill would provide $20.5 million for watercraft inspections and removal of existing invasive species and would require all watercraft be inspected and decontaminated to prevent the introduction of invasive aquatic species. Watercraft will be exempted from decontamination if they were last launched in Lake Tahoe.
  • Supports reintroduction of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. The legislation authorizes $20 million over 10 years for the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan. The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is an iconic species that has an important historic legacy in Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is one of the historic 11 lakes that had Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in the past and is a critical part of the strategy to recover the species.
  • Funds scientific research. The bill authorizes $30 million over 10 years for scientific programs and research that will produce information on long-term trends in the Basin and inform the most cost-effective projects.
  • Prohibits mining operations in the Tahoe Basin. The legislation would prevent the start of any mining operations in the Basin, ensuring that the fragile watershed, and Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, are not threatened by pollution from mining operations.
  • Increases accountability and oversight. All projects funded by this legislation will have monitoring and assessment in order to determine the most cost-effective projects and best management practices for future projects. The legislation also requires an annual report to Congress detailing the status of all projects undertaken, including project scope, budget and justification and overall expenditures and accomplishments.
  • Provides for public outreach and education. The legislation requires signage on federally financed projects in order to improve public awareness of restoration efforts. In addition, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will have a public outreach and education program to encourage Basin residents and visitors to implement defensible space, best management practices for water quality and to prevent the introduction and proliferation of invasive species.
  • Allows for increased efficiency in the management of public land. Under this legislation, the Forest Service would have increased flexibility to exchange land with state and local entities which will allow for more cost-efficient management of public land. Currently, the Forest Service manages more than 3,200 urban parcels spread throughout the Basin.

The bill is supported by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, the California Tahoe Conservancy, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, the Trust for Public Lands, Trout Unlimited, Tahoe area fire chiefs, the Tahoe Fund, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Washoe Tribe.

History:

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2011 builds on efforts that began under the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2000, legislation sponsored by Senators Feinstein, Reid, Boxer and then-Senator Richard Bryan (D-Nev.).

That bill, which was signed into law in November 2000, led to significant investments in the health of Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Basin, including $453.8 million from the federal government, $616.6 million from California, $91.3 million from Nevada, $61.4 million from local governments, and $264.4 million in in-kind contributions from the private sector.

Investments in the 2000 legislation resulted in:

  • Fuels reduction treatment of 42,275 acres;
  • Wildlife habitat improvements on 15,361 acres of land, including 1,392 acres of Stream Environment Zones; and
  • Acquisition of 3,103 acres of sensitive land and improvements to 444 miles of roadways to prevent sediment from entering the lake.
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