The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of the leading federal ecosystem restoration agencies in the Lake Tahoe Basin and has worked with local, state and other federal partners since 1997 to preserve the lake’s prized clarity by restoring natural inflows and controlling invasive species.
Corps involvement in the Lake Tahoe Basin is shaped by two programs -- the Tahoe Partnership and the Tahoe Section 108 programs.
The Tahoe Partnership program provides watershed planning and restoration as part of a multi-agency environmental improvement program to increase global climate change adaptation policy and improve storm water models and tools.
A 1997 environmental summit held by President Bill Clinton on the shore of Lake Tahoe at Incline Village, Nev., led to Executive Order 13057, which was the original basis for the partnership program and broadening the Corps’ presence in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The program has consistently been included in the president’s budget ever since.
The executive order:
- Directed federal departments and agencies to work together to establish close coordination between state, local and tribal partners to achieve a balance between the ecosystem and the economy by establishing the Lake Tahoe Federal Interagency Partnership.
- Supported an appropriate environmental improvement program that fostered the protection of water quality, air quality, habitat restoration, vegetation management and recreation.
- Outlined a series of 39 actions, or Presidential Commitments, to be taken to achieve the national objective of preserving the Lake Tahoe Basin.
One ongoing effort supported by the program is the Road Rapid Assessment Methodology, a collaborative partnership with EPA and State of Nevada (Nevada Division of Environmental Protection) for reducing roadway pollutant loads and developing storm water monitoring efforts to help meet Tahoe’s clarity challenge.
“The Corps' involvement in the Basin is incredibly valuable due to their expertise in many areas and their regulatory authority,” said Penny Stewart, supervising environmental planner for the Californian Tahoe Conservancy. “They not only have a knowledgeable local staff but can tap into staff at their research centers, like Vicksburg (Engineer Research and Development Center), and provide information to the Basin partners of efforts elsewhere, helping keep the Basin engaged nationally on important topics and aware of new trends and technology.”
The 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act created the Tahoe Section 108 program, which provides assistance to non-federal interests in the Lake Tahoe Basin for environmental infrastructure projects. Assistance under this program may be in the form of planning, design, and construction assistance.
Although restoration projects at North Canyon Creek and the Angora Fire Watershed are fiscally compete, other projects still underway include environmental restoration of Blackwood Creek, Lake Forest and the Upper Truckee River.
“For over a decade the Sacramento District has assisted our Tahoe partners with large landscape environmental infrastructure projects within the Tahoe Basin,” said Laura Whitney, project manager for the Corps’ Sacramento District. “Our mission in the watershed is a unique and challenging one. We have specific capabilities as an organization like satellite imagery and hydrology data analysis that can help provide our partners with a framework to evaluate restoration priorities and the effectiveness of restoration efforts over time.”
Each year, the Corps participates in the annual Lake Tahoe Summit hosted by an elected official from either California or Nevada, as the lake lies on the border between the two states. The summit is a vital gathering of federal, state and local leaders who are dedicated to preserving one of the nation’s most beautiful natural settings -- and an international tourist destination that hosts 3 million visitors each year.
This year’s summit focused on aquatic invasive species control and management. Invasive species pose one of the most serious threats to Lake Tahoe and to nearby Fallen Leaf, Echo, Marlette and Cascade Lakes.
However, the topic isn’t new for the Corps.
The Corps was heavily involved in the establishment of the Lake Tahoe Boat Inspection Program that is now used throughout the basin, and is working with the California Tahoe Conservancy on a management plan that identifies baseline characteristics of aquatic invasive species in the lake by conducting weed and fish surveys. The plan targets mudsnails, quagga mussels, milfoil, pondweed, bass and bluegill infestations.
According to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a joint effort by California and Nevada and the nation’s first multi-state agency focused on regional environmental planning, the environmental and economic impacts of these invasions could be substantial as they crowd out native populations, impair habitats and water quality and reduce recreational opportunities.
“The Corps provided critical and timely funding for the Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program during its infancy that allowed it to grow to the national model it is today,” said Dennis Zabaglo, aquatic resources program manager for TRPA. “The iconic Emerald Bay of Lake Tahoe, once infested with 6 acres of invasive aquatic weeds, has not had an invasive weed observed in over two years.”
By continuing to support these projects in the Tahoe Basin the Corps is solidifying its position as one of the nation’s leaders in environmental protection.