Lake Tahoe clarity second-worst on record


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Lake Tahoe lost nearly 4 feet of clarity last year, sending water visibility to the second-worst level on record.

UC Davis’ annual State of the Lake Report pegged the 2010 Secchi depth -- the point below Tahoe’s surface at which a 10-inch white disk vanishes from view -- at 64.4 feet. That’s just a few inches more than the 1997 record.


Researchers said such year-to year variability is not uncommon, adding that the long-term trend remains one of slowing clarity loss.

The report was released as state and federal officials gathered for the annual Lake Tahoe Summit against a background of growing tension between Nevada and California. Nevada is threatening to pull out of the bistate compact that regulates land use in the Tahoe Basin unless it is amended to make it easier to approve development.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who attended the summit, said Tuesday that they would work to complete an overdue update of the basin’s regional plan. They also signed into law new pollution limits that call for incremental improvement in the lake’s clarity until it returns to nearly 100 feet, where it was in the 1960s.

Attaining those goals is “a huge, huge task,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who said it took 10 years ‘and about $10 million worth of science” to develop the standards. They essentially call for a 65% drop in the amount of fine sediment washing into the lake over the next 6½ decades, or 1% a year.

The job of meeting those standards will fall largely on local and regional governments in the Tahoe Basin at a time when federal funding for environmental restoration at the lake is dwindling. The Interior Department is making a final payment of $34 million from public land sales in the Las Vegas area that have funneled more than $300 million to Tahoe projects. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to renew funding is unlikely to get far with congressional budget-slashers.


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-- Bettina Boxall