Obama signs $415 million Tahoe bill; now comes hard part — getting money from the feds, says TRPA official

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December 21, 2016 – by Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

President Obama this year signed a major environmental bill that includes the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act.

It directs $415 million toward conservation of Lake Tahoe over the next seven years.

Now comes the hard part — getting the federal government to transfer the money that goes along with the new bill, said
Joanne S. Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

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“It will be the tough part,” she said during a Nevada Newsmakers broadcast.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nv., retires at the end of the year and his departure could put more strain on securing the federal funds the bill should provide. Reid has championed Lake Tahoe during his U.S. Senate career, helping start the Tahoe Summit in 1997, which attracted President Bill Clinton that year. This year, Reid helped get Obama to the Tahoe Summit, where he took shots at climate-change deniers.

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

“It will make some difference,” Marchetta said about Reid’s departure. “We are building new coalitions and we have a very strong (Congressional) delegation with Sen. (Dean) Heller, R-NV and Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein, D-Cal. Again we have a bipartisan coalition, so we are confident.”

“President Obama made an appearance at this year’s 20th annual Summit and thanks to Sen Reid on his way out,” Marchetta said. “He was able to get President Obama to visit this year and again, it reinvigorated and re-enforced the national commitment to Lake Tahoe.

Most of the $415 million promised by the federal government in the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act is directed into two areas — $150 million for fire-risk reduction and forest management and $113 million to combat storm water runoff pollution.

Yet other funding — both public and private — has recently been spent on Lake Tahoe, Marchetta said.

“Over these past last four years, we’ve seen some real re-investment in Tahoe, $500 million has been invested through public and private partnerships over just the last couple of years,” Marchetta said. “So we are seeing new investment in everything from lodging, restaurants, bike trails and recreation amenities. And then we’ve also been investing, of course in (stopping) our threats, in aquatic evasive species. We have invested heavily in intervention and we have invested heavily in forest protection and catastrophic protection.”

The battle against evasive species is focused on stopping the quagga mussel from entering Lake Tahoe, Marchetta said.

First discovered in Lake Mead in 2007, quaggas now number in the trillions there and have have spread throughout much of the lower Colorado River system.The quaggas, or their cousin the zebra mussel, could forever alter the Tahoe ecosystem, potentially covering boats and docks and littering beaches with foul-smelling shells. One federal study suggests Tahoe’s tourism-dependent economy could take a $22 million annual hit should quagga mussels ever become established there, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“It is a continuing threat,” Marchetta said. “But we are fortunate at Lake Tahoe. Eight years ago we initiated a prevention program, which is our boat inspection program, and over a number of years we have now inspected and certified as clean 50,000 boats. What it allows is for recreational boaters to come to the lake and be assured that their boats are not contributing to the aquatic evasive species problem.”

The battle against the quagga mussel is going so well that it has received national attention, Marchetta said.

“That prevention program is now recognized as a national model for how to prevent the introduction of new evasive species into our pristine lake,” Marchetta said.

Yet the ongoing drought over the past years has led to another environmental crisis, this one in the forests that surround the lake, Marchetta said.

“What we are seeing in the Greater Sierra is a truly catastrophic infestation of bark beetle,” she said. “Bark beetles existed in the background naturally. But when you go through these long periods of drought, we’re seeing literally millions of trees that have died off in the Sierra and we’re starting to see that tree mortality move into Lake Tahoe. There are significant pockets of dead trees on the North Shore and some on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. So we’ve put together a tree mortality task force in cooperation with the two states and we will continue to monitors some of these threats.”

Pine bark beetles can kill individual trees, but when conditions are favorable, their populations can build up rapidly and cause extensive damage. Bark beetles have become a major problem for U.S. forests stretching from Alaska to New Mexico, according to reports. Much of their growth and infestations are spurred by drought and the continuation of warming trends, according to reports.

And although Lake Tahoe is once again at its natural rim, scientists predict long dry periods for Lake Tahoe in the future,” Marchetta said.

“You have to look at climate cyclically,” Marchetta said. “And the scientific predictions right now are that we are going to see longer period of low lake and longer periods of perhaps dry weather. So we’re not resting on our laurels here. Just because it happens to be snowing and raining out there like today, we are going to have to continue to address some of these threats.”

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