Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Lake Tahoe, CA & NV
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Lake Tahoe's clarity is world renowned and well documented. The lake has experienced a decline in water clarity since the late 1960s. A plan to reverse this decline and restore deepwater clarity to historic levels—known as the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL—was recently adopted by the States of California and Nevada, and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 16, 2011. Prior to approving the TMDL EPA Region 9 consulted and coordinated with the Washoe Tribe of Nevada.
The TMDL's implementation plan will guide restoration efforts for a number of sources of pollutants responsible for the clarity decline. The plan calls for fine sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen pollutant load reduction projects to be implemented by state departments of transportation and local municipalities, land and stream resource management agencies, and air quality regulators.
The TMDL and its Implementation Plan are the result of a ten-year development effort funded by state and federal agencies. Both the scientific research and stakeholder input that underpin the final restoration plan are among the most advanced ever applied to a TMDL in the nearly 40-year history of the Clean Water Act.
The Lake Tahoe TMDL:
- quantified the relative contributions of fine sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen inputs to Lake Tahoe from major pollutant sources;
- quantified load reductions needed from the four largest sources (urban and forest stormwater runoff, stream channel erosion, and atmospheric deposition) to achieve both the TMDL numeric and interim (Clarity Challenge) targets of 97.4 and 78 feet (29.7 and 24 meters) respectively; and
- established a recommended strategy to achieve pollutant load reductions needed to restore lost clarity.
- EPA Press Release
- California Lake Tahoe TMDL (PDF) (380 pp, 5.86MB)
- California Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board
- Nevada Lake Tahoe TMDL (PDF) (338 pp, 5.1MB)
- Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Water Quality Planning
- More information on TMDL's
- Video: Charting the Course to Clarity
Management Actions Taken
- Establishment of the Clarity Challenge which is an interim goal to achieve 80 feet of clarity within 20 years and considers the opportunities for achievable load reductions in all source categories.
- Development of a suite of urban stormwater tools including a hydrologic load reduction simulation model to aid in the development and selection of alternative project design scenarios, as well as rapid assessment methodologies to help jurisdictions determine the relative condition of stormwater assets and to prioritize and evaluate maintenance activities.
- Development of protocols and methods facilitating the consistent estimation and tracking of progress toward achieving restoration goals.
- Initiation of a TMDL Management System to incorporate new monitoring, scientific and research information and ensure continual improvement and adaptive management occurs throughout implementation of the Lake Tahoe TMDL.
On August 16, 2011, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein hosted the 15th annual Lake Tahoe Summit in Homewood, CA. Prominent legislators and officials in attendance included U.S. Senator Harry Reid (NV), U.S. Senator Dean Heller (NV), California's Governor Jerry Brown, Nevada's Governor Brian Sandoval, and U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld.
At this year's summit, USEPA announced its approval of the Lake Tahoe TMDL. RA Blumenfeld invited both governors to join him in signing a Lake Tahoe Clarity Commitment to implement the steps required to restore lake clarity to a depth of 97.4 feet by 2076.
On the same day as the 2011 Summit, the U.S. Geological Survey released a short video, Lake of the Sky: USGS Tahoe Basin Science on scientific research in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The video showcases a broad range of USGS science, including water quality monitoring, streamgaging, Lake Tahoe bathymetry, aerial LIDAR, historic use of aerial photography, and the Tahoe Land Use Simulation Model. This wide range of consistent, reliable, long-term data and maps are crucial for evaluating and maintaining the ecosystem health of the lake and basin.
Implementing the TMDL
The CA Water Board and NV DEP are the two state regulatory agencies who will oversee implementation of this TMDL. These two agencies may enact policy and regulations based on the TMDL analysis and key scientific findings of the TMDL. Each agency will use its regulatory authority and non-regulatory programs (see funding section below) to ensure that the performance objectives specified in this TMDL are achieved.
Achieving the interim Clarity Challenge—load reductions expected to improve Secchi disk depth by nearly ten feet—will necessitate substantial reductions from all source categories, particularly urban stormwater runoff. The Lake Tahoe TMDL has blazed new ground by developing a comprehensive method for estimating, tracking and reporting progress from on-the-ground pollution
The following is a representative list of practices and treatment options that responsible parties might use to meet the Clarity Challenge load reductions by 2026, and achieve the TMDL in 2076. Many of these practices are already in use by responsible parties, and an enhanced level of effort may contribute to reduced sediment and nutrient discharges to Lake Tahoe. In the future, technological advances may add other actions to this list. This list is not intended to be exclusive; implementing agencies may select other actions to achieve required load reductions. Please refer to the State's TMDL Section 11.3 for more discussion on implementing the TMDL.
- Stabilize and re-vegetate road shoulders and eroding slopes
- Implement an aggressive street sweeping program with high-efficiency street sweepers
- Upgrade/enhance fertilizer/turf management practices to reduce nutrient application
- Remove impervious coverage (increase infiltration)
- Redirect runoff for additional treatment
- Install and maintain infiltration trenches
- Install and maintain prefabricated infiltration systems
- Install and maintain detention basins
- Install and maintain sand filters
- Apply advanced deicing strategies (to reduce or eliminate abrasive application)
- Upgrade/increase/enhance infrastructure operation and maintenance
- Control retail fertilizer sales within the Basin
- Recommend landscaping practices that reduce nutrient mobilization
- Install and maintain wet basins / infiltration basins
- Install and maintain constructed wetlands
- Install and maintain media filters in stormwater vaults
- Pump stormwater to more suitable treatment locations
- Put gravel on unpaved roads and pave dirt roads at access points
- Reduce residential wood burning with incentive programs
- Mulch and revegetate ski runs
- Decommission and re-contour existing roads and trails
- Implement stream restoration project and reconnect floodplains
Environmental Improvement Program (EIP)
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) launched the EIP in an effort to better implement the Regional Plan and highlighted it at the Presidential Forum at Lake Tahoe in 1997. Recognizing that capital investments, research, and monitoring were essential components of the Regional Plan, the original EIP called for an investment of $908 million in capital projects and $58 million in research and monitoring. The EIP also identified hundreds of specific projects and programs to be undertaken by more than 50 funding partners, including federal, state, and local agencies and the private sector. The projects were focused on improving air, water, and scenic quality, forest health, fish and wildlife, and public access to the Lake and other recreation areas. The prime directive of the EIP was to move the Tahoe Basin closer to environmental threshold attainment.
Lake Clarity Crediting Program
Urban stormwater jurisdictions are expected to prioritize and implement needed load reductions at the catchment or neighborhood scale, as well as to verify and obtain credit for these activities through the Lake Clarity Crediting Program. Load reduction estimation and tracking protocols are under development for all source categories, facilitating the evaluation and assessment of progress toward meeting load reduction goals and enabling greater transparency and accountability for the expenditures of public monies. The Lake Clarity Crediting Program establishes the framework that connects on-the- ground actions to the goal of restoring Lake Tahoe clarity. It defines a comprehensive and consistent accounting system to track pollutant load reductions from urban stormwater using Lake Clarity Credits. The Crediting Program aligns policies with ongoing implementation in order to drive accountability and motivate effective action to improve Lake Tahoe clarity.
Funding the restoration of Lake Tahoe has been expensive and will continue to be costly into the future. This funding matrix, Funding the Implementation of the Lake Tahoe TMDL (PDF) (5 pp, 98K), was designed to help the local community navigate the numerous funding opportunities available to implement water quality improvement projects.
Much of the funding for capital improvement and watershed projects, and scientific research has been from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA) which provides for the disposal of public lands in Clark County and in 2003, created a special account of the revenue generated by land sales to restore Lake Tahoe. New allocations of SNPLMA funds expired with signature of the final round of funding ($34 M) in August 2011, bringing the total expenditure over eight rounds to $300M. For more information on the current round of projects being funded, visit the Tahoe Basin Management Unit at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service web site.
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