Beauty or the bucks?

Placer County money blues could waylay restoration of Lake Tahoe hues
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Is the price to keep Tahoe blue too high? A $1.2-billion estimate for getting Lake Tahoe closer to its original blue is being met with little enthusiasm by Placer County government. With no end to tight budgets in sight, County Executive Officer Tom Miller and Granite Bay-area Supervisor Kirk Uhler questioned how the county could come up with its share of funding for work to restore the Sierra lake’s historic clarity. Clarity was measured at 97 feet in the late 1960s but has been declining nearly a foot a year since then. Sediment is one of the major factors being blamed. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency have a long-term goal of restoring the historic clarity of the legendary lake. Harold Singer, Lahontan executive officer, said Wednesday that it would be up to local governments to come up with specific projects and funding. The $1.2 billion estimate is a good starting point on a 10- to 20-year program that could bring clarity at the lake to the 80-foot level, he said. Singer presented an outline of the Lake Tahoe “total maximum daily load” concept for cutting silt levels on the lake at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. It targets stormwater runoff – the fine sediment caused by erosion that is being linked to Tahoe’s increasingly murky appearance. Uhler questioned the possibility of a program that wouldn’t include developer cooperation, noting that environmental organizations in the Kings Beach area have threatened a number of private projects with lawsuits. Federal and state funding is being seen as a potential major source of revenue. “Doing nothing isn’t enough – you need urban redevelopment,” he said. Uhler added that the initial steps in increasing Tahoe clarity would be “picking the low-hanging fruit” but the final push to bring clarity back another 10 feet could cost $10 billion. “At what point do we say it’s not worth it?” Uhler said. Singer said that water quality and developer perspectives have to be balanced and his organization is reaching out to stakeholders in both the environmental and business communities. Miller said the county would have no money in its general fund for “miscellaneous sorts of things” like the clarity program at Tahoe. “Federal and state monies are drying up and the only way we get new stuff built is through new development,” Miller said. “Fees are the only mechanism we have.” Singer said that it wouldn’t be the right time for adding more fees to developers to pay for the clarity program. “But we have to look at this over a longer period of time,” he said.