Environmental Issues Monopolize Lake Tahoe Forum

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nevada, August 17, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental problems and solutions are center stage today at the 10th anniversary Lake Tahoe Forum at Sierra Nevada College. The resort town of Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California border is built on a deep alpine lake that is losing its clarity at the rate of a foot a year. Fire risk is high, development is consuming open space, and new research shows that the Tahoe climate and lake waters are warming.

This trend could have profound implications for the natural features that make Tahoe a popular international vacation destination - snowfall in winter and the cobalt-blue lake in summer.

Lake Tahoe attracts visitors from around the world. (Photo courtesy Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau)
The Forum will review 10 years of research and conservation at Lake Tahoe, and consider preventing wildfires, reducing forest fuel load in the basin, and wildlife restoration, following the Angora Fire in July that claimed 254 homes.

To deal with these environmental problems, some federal money is forthcoming.

At the Forum, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne signed approval documents for more than $132 million in funding for restoration, conservation and recreation projects in Nevada, including $45 million for Lake Tahoe and $87 million for Clark and Lincoln Counties.

Lake Tahoe will receive $10 million to improve forest health by reducing the accumulation of woodland fuels; $30 million for watershed and wildlife habitat improvements; $500,000 for air quality and transportation initiatives; $250,000 for recreation and scenic programs, and $3.7 million for science and research that guide and evaluate these restoration efforts.

"The funds for Lake Tahoe will help improve the health of the surrounding forests, continue scientific research to improve water and air quality, and support ongoing hazardous fuels reduction projects," Kempthorne said.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne at the 2006 Lake Tahoe Forum (Photo courtesy DOI)
At the 2006 Forum, Kempthorne approved more than $48 million to help protect and restore the Lake Tahoe Basin. "The Department of the Interior remains committed to the spirit of partnership to protect this extraordinarily special area," he said today.

Kempthorne joined former President Bill Clinton, Forum organizer Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Senator John Ensign and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, federal administrators, state, and local officials at the special anniversary celebration.

Today's keynote speaker former President Bill Clinton attended the first forum in 1997, pledging $50 million in federal spending to heal the troubled environment of the Lake Tahoe Basin. He signed an executive order that declared Lake Tahoe an area of national concern, citing the basin's extraordinary natural, recreational and ecological resources.

Clinton's pledge was the start to funding for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Environmental Improvement Program, which resulted in the federal government, and the states of California and Nevada each paying a share of the $900 million environmental plan.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is hosting the 10th annual Lake Tahoe Forum, which will be followed by the Nevada Clean Energy Summit on Saturday.

A new research report published Thursday by the University of California-Davis reveals that the Tahoe climate is warming up.

The Angora Fire on Lake Tahoe's South Shore charred 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 home. July 6, 2007 (Photo by Tim Rains courtesy Inciweb)
"The persistent increase in water temperature that we have observed since 1978 is beginning to have noticeable impacts on the entire Lake Tahoe ecosystem," said Geoff Schladow, an expert on lake health and director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

The study by Schladow and his team show that nights are warmer, cold days are fewer, less precipitation falls as snow, and lake waters are warmer.

Since 1999, the average July surface water temperature of the lake has increased almost five degrees. The lake's surface waters were the warmest on record on July 26, 2006, measuring 78 degrees F.

"The types of algae we see in the lake are changing, and they are starting to be present earlier in the year," Schladow said. "The lake is becoming more hospitable to invasive plants and fish, with warm-water species like bass and carp increasingly common."

Annual variations in Lake Tahoe clarity are controlled largely by the amount of rain and snow that falls in the lake watershed. "Higher precipitation results in more runoff and affects the amount of soil particles and pollutants that are washed into the lake," said John Reuter, also an expert on lake health, and the associate director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

The report, "Tahoe: State of the Lake Report 2007," is online at http://terc.ucdavis.edu.

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