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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Overview of Management and Restoration Activities in the Lake Tahoe Basin

Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Charles V. Stern
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Amanda Marie Levin
Research Associate

The Lake Tahoe Basin (Basin) straddles the California-Nevada border and includes Lake Tahoe. The Basin is regarded for its beauty, wildlife diversity, clear waters, and recreation. Logging and mining stimulated development in the Basin beginning in the 1850s. Development, especially urban development, has affected the Basin’s ecosystem, leading to a decline in the water quality of Lake Tahoe, tree mortality, heightened wildfire risk, and population declines in fish and wildlife species.

Restoration of the Tahoe Basin began in 1969 under the Bi-State Compact between California and Nevada. The Compact authorized the creation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). TRPA oversees restoration efforts in the Tahoe Basin and monitors environmental progress, among other things. TRPA also created the Regional Plan, which is a framework for restoration. The Plan has specific goals for restoration, and focuses on improving water quality, decreasing the number of invasive species, maintaining populations and habitats of sensitive and listed species, and reducing wildfire risk in the surrounding forests. The implementation and funding of the Plan is done by state, federal, local, and private stakeholders.

The federal government is involved in the restoration of the Basin due to its land holdings and funding for restoration. Federal agencies coordinate their efforts with other stakeholders through the Lake Tahoe Federal Interagency Partnership. In total, various entities have contributed over $1.7 billion to fund 600 projects since 1997. This includes approximately $554.5 million in federal funds. An additional $2.5 billion has been requested from stakeholders to fund an additional 700 projects from 2008 to 2018. The federal government has been asked to contribute $645 million of this newly planned spending. Currently, federal support for restoration projects has been authorized under the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-506) and the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA; P.L. 105-263).

Views on the progress of restoration in the Basin have been mixed. Some local groups question whether funds have been efficiently spent, whereas others contend that progress has been significant in restoring the Basin ecosystem. These might change due to a recent update of the Regional Plan. This update appears to support sustainable development in the Basin, which has caused some environmental groups to question whether progress in restoring the Basin might be stalled. Others, however, contend that sustainable development and economic well-being of the region is necessary for ecosystem restoration in the long term. Another restoration issue is funding. Mandatory federal funding provided under SNPLMA is exhausted, causing some to question whether federal funding will remain at consistent levels or decline.

The 113th Congress is attempting to address some of these issues in proposed legislation. S. 1451 would reauthorize $415 million for restoration for 10 fiscal years from the year enacted; promote federal support for scientific work in the Basin, including studies on the effects of climate change on the ecosystem; and authorize a program to address aquatic invasive species. Congress might also conduct oversight to understand the progress of restoration and provide input on current controversies concerning the balance between development and the environment in the Basin.

Date of Report: September 13, 2013
Number of Pages: 35
Order Number: R43224
Price: $29.95

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