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Senator Feinstein Urges Senate Panel to Support Major Legislation to Save Lake Tahoe

Press Release

Date: Feb. 24, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), to support the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2009. The bill would authorize $415 million over eight years to improve water clarity, combat invasive species, reduce the wildfire threat and restore the environment.

Following are Senator Feinstein's remarks as delivered:

"Thank you very much Madam Chairman. I particularly want to thank you for working with me on this bill. This is the second Tahoe restoration bill, which will go for eight years.

All this began when President Clinton was the guest and star at the first Tahoe Summit, almost 13 years ago, and this really called everyone's attention to the plight of what was a deteriorating situation at a lake that is only one of two clear cold-water lakes in the world like this, and certainly the jewel in the crown of California and Nevada.

A unique private-public partnership was begun with that first bill. And that private-public partnership had about $250 million from the private sector put in. Both Nevada and California contributed, through both Senator Reid and Senator Ensign, and Nevada land sales helped fund the bill, and of course, so did federal money.

So, this bill follows the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2000, which set this partnership in motion.

About $1.4 billion of the monies I've talked about have been invested, and that includes $424 million by the federal government. It financed more than 300 projects under the Environmental Improvement Program, leading to improvements across the board, including:

* Improving erosion-control measures on 429 miles of roadways;
* Restoring 739 acres of wetlands;
* Treating 33,000 acres of hazardous fuels; and
* Restoring 14,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including 800 acres of Stream Environment Zones.

Much work has been done, but much work lies ahead.

Now every year there is a Tahoe Summit. And Senator Reid and Senator Ensign, or those of us on the California side, sponsor that summit. And people and groups from all around the lake come together, and we go through a day of what the needs are and what advances have been made.

Now, what's changed? What's changed is that invasive species have evolved into a real threat.

University of California researchers found up to 3,000 Asian clams per square meter at spots between Zephyr Point and Elk Point. So essentially you have a 30-mile stretch which is dotted with these Asian clams, which are so sharp on the sand, you can't walk on them. They create rotting algae on the lake's beaches.

An aquatic weed called milfoil is spreading along the shoreline. It's a nuisance to motor craft and may pump phosphorous into the lake. It is located in Emerald Bay.

And the quagga mussel could decimate the lake, much as it has Lake Mead. We found that just one quagga mussel attached to one boat could lay 1 million eggs. That's how prolific this thing is, and the cold water does not kill them. So the quagga is a big problem, and a program is being put in place to see that all boats that are brought in are checked before they're put into the lake, because an infestation of quagga would clearly destroy Lake Tahoe.

Also, we face the threat of catastrophic wildfires. The Angora Fire of 2007 destroyed 242 homes on the south side of the lake and scorched 3,100 acres. It really was a wake-up call to all of us.

Today, 25 percent of the Basin's trees are dead or dying. And these are virtually all in national forests. These fuels could become wildfires that could incinerate the Basin.

Pollution and sedimentation threaten Lake Tahoe's fabled water clarity. In 1968, UC Davis scientists measured an average clarity depth of 102 feet. When I was a youngster and went to Tahoe, it was 150 feet. But in 1968 it was 102 feet. Clarity declined drastically over the next three decades, hitting a low of 64 feet in 1997.

Now, we've seen improvements this decade. Last year the average clarity of 69.6 feet and scientists say that the rate of decline in Tahoe's clarity has slowed. We need to build on this.

And climate change is adding to all these problems. It leaves the Basin hot, it is tinder-dry in the summer and it is vulnerable to wildfires.

The lake's surface temperature has risen 1.5 degrees in 38 years. This means the cyclical deep-water mixing of the lake's waters will occur less frequently, and this could significantly disrupt Lake Tahoe's ecosystem.

What does this bill do?

It authorizes $415 million over eight years to improve water clarity, combat invasive species, reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, and restore the environment.

And I have a commitment from Steve Teshara, who is the head of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, that the private contribution will be $250 million, and that's good news.

This bill will:

* Authorize $40 million for storm water management and erosion control projects to prevent urban runoff -- the greatest threat to water clarity -- from entering Lake Tahoe;
* Authorize $32 million for projects to restore watersheds and streams to reduce the amount of sediment flowing into the lake; 90 percent of this sediment comes from the Upper Truckee River, Blackwood Creek and Ward Creek in California. These are top priority projects and would be funded first under this bill;
* Require prioritized ranking of environmental restoration projects and authorizes $136 million to implement these projects;
* Authorize $136 million to reduce the threat of wildfire by reducing hazardous fuels;
* Authorize $20.5 million to protect Lake Tahoe from Asian clams, quagga mussels and other invasive species;
* Authorize $20 million to reintroduce the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout; and
* Provide $30 million for scientific research to produce information on long-term trends in the Basin and inform the most cost-effective projects.

All projects funded by this legislation would be evaluated for cost-effectiveness. There would be annual reports to Congress on the status of all projects--including expenditures and accomplishments. And scientific data would guide restoration programs to ensure that only top priorities are funded.

So, it is with a sense of urgency that I join with Majority Leader Reid, with Chairman Boxer and Senator Ensign, in asking this Committee to pass out the second Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. I believe that with this legislation, we can rise to the challenges presented by these threats, and build upon gains set in motion by our first bill.

I want to thank Senator Ensign for being here, for his support, and Senator Reid, thank you so much for being here. It was a pleasure to work with you on this bill. I just want you to know that your interest is really appreciated. Thank you very much, Madam Chair."


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