EPA administrator pledges federal support for Lake Tahoe

ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. (AP) - President Bush is as committed as his predecessor to helping protect Lake Tahoe from pollution that is clouding its famed clarity, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman declared Tuesday.

''We will continue to pursue the goals of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act by providing the technical expertise, monitoring and research that are critical to this preservation,'' she said at the annual Tahoe Summit.

Whitman toured the lake with Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign, Rep. Jim Gibbons and Gov. Kenny Guinn and other federal, state, local and tribal officials.

Part of the visit included a 40-minute trip aboard a University of California, Davis research boat used to study the lake. One experiment included lowering a white salad plate-sized Secchi disc into the lake's cobalt-blue water until it disappeared from sight.

''Nineteen and one-half meters. That was relatively good,'' said Charles Goldman, an expert on the study of lakes from UC Davis who has watched Tahoe's clarity decline steadily from 30 meters in 1968. Five meters would be the average in most lakes.

Tahoe still loses about one foot of visibility a year because of algae growth in the lake and dust particles that blow in from as far away as California's Central Valley.

''It's very difficult to get that stuff out of the water once it's there,'' said UC Davis field lab director Bob Richards.

Local culprits include auto emissions, erosion and runoff from fertilized lawns.

Reid, D-Nev., drew national attention to the lake's plight in 1997 when President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore accepted his invitation to attend the first summit.

That resulted in the restoration act Clinton signed Nov. 13 authorizing $300 million over the next 10 years for environmental projects to stem the lake's decline.

Reid said Whitman's appearance showed the Bush administration's commitment to the pledge while the presence of Ensign and Gibbons, both Republicans, underscored its bipartisanship support.

Whitman said the EPA has provided more than $17 million for water quality projects and has assigned a person to work full time on Tahoe issues - a job that she noted didn't have any shortage of applicants.

Speaking from the lake's shore on a sunny, 70-degree day, she said, ''My intention is for America's air to be cleaner, water purer and land better protected when I leave the EPA than it was when I arrived.

''We are on our way to making these goals a reality right here in the Lake Tahoe Basin. ... In doing so, we can ensure that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy the same spectacular setting that we enjoy today.''

Goldman, who heads the Tahoe Research Group, said he was optimistic that the lake's decline could be reversed.

''I believe that Whitman is serious about EPA involvement in helping solve Tahoe's problems,'' he said. ''The boat trip was amazing - so many federal big shots gathered all at one time.''

Goldman agreed with Whitman that while the EPA's involvement assures support and government funding, the main responsibility lies with state and local governments and with people living in the basin and visiting it.

Leaving cars and buses parked elsewhere and relaying on electric-powered vehicles would help, he said.

''And people have to realize they don't HAVE to have a lawn in the Lake Tahoe Basin,'' he said. ''Otherwise, in 30 years, we're going to have an ordinary lake here. An ordinary green lake.''


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