Declining Lake Clarity May Harm Property Values
The results of the 2017 clarity report for Lake Tahoe show that it has declined to an all-time low of less than 60 feet. This should be alarming to Tahoe basin property owners. It continues a stair step trend of decreasing Lake clarity that started in the 1960s. While Crater Lake in Oregon remains pristine, the dramatic differences in development and road traffic, along with the number of visitors and full time residents around these two beautiful alpine lakes are the main reasons one stays incredibly clear while the other continues to suffer degradation.
One of the primary attractions of Lake Tahoe for visitors from all over the world is the unusually clear water. Prior to extensive development around the Lake, the clarity was so fantastic that you could see more than 100 feet below the surface. Imagine the feeling early settlers and visitors had seeing the native fish swimming offshore among the boulders, seemingly close enough to touch.
Fine particles carried into Tahoe from the creeks around the lake when the snow is melting are really only one contributor to the decline in lake clarity. Far bigger causes of the decline in water quality and clarity are the vast amounts of sand and grit distributed on the roads during snow removal season, removal of the vast majority of natural marshes and wetlands for development purposes, algae blooms from the use of fertilizer on golf courses and lawns and untreated runoff from the extensive amounts of paved areas around the lake.
Invasive species such as Asian clams may also contribute to the decline in lake clarity, not to mention clogging water intakes. The threat of Zebra and Quagga mussels is so great that mandatory boat inspections had to be initiated several years ago to try and prevent their spread into Lake Tahoe.
A lesson in history takes us back to the late 1970s and early 1980s to a beautiful lake in central New Hampshire called Lake Winnisquam. Known to the locals as “Little Winni” due to its smaller size and proximity to the grand and majestic Lake Winnipesauke, Winnisquam suffered an algae bloom that killed off not just the fish, but all forms of recreation for more than three years. Property values plummeted, real estate sales virtually dried up, tourism almost completely vanished and local businesses suffered huge economic losses. While nearby Lake Winnipesaukee was the beneficiary of all the visitors who would normally go to Lake Winnisquam, the year-round residents and business owners at Little Winni suffered through some very difficult times.
It took some drastic measures but eventually Lake Winnisquam was cleaned up, the fish restocked and property values skyrocketed after the lake was once again usable by swimmers and boaters. While the TRPA has been engaged in a mission to preserve and protect the Lake Tahoe for about 50 years, the clarity of our lake has declined significantly.
It is the responsibility of every property owner and visitor to help protect Lake Tahoe for future generations.
You can start by taking a more natural approach and accept the fact that a suburban lawn is out of place in a mountain environment. If you feel that you must have a lawn, forgo the fertilizer and that includes golf courses, too. Just one look at the satellite view of the Edgewood Golf Course at South Lake Tahoe and the algae bloom that extends further out into the lake each year will be enough to convince you that lawn fertilizer has no place in the Lake Tahoe basin.
The various county and state highway departments responsible for snow removal will need to use a lot less sand and grit during the wintertime. Excess sand and grit should be removed from the streets when road conditions improve so it does not all wash down into the lake. In the winter, drivers will have to slow down and drive more cautiously. Increasing the amount and availability of clean powered public transit to and from the ski resorts, major hotels and other destinations will reduce particulates from vehicles and erosion of the pavement.
If we all work together on common sense solutions to increase lake clarity we can stabilize the current condition and hopefully improve the beauty of the water over time. Otherwise, it will be a steady downward spiral until one day Lake Tahoe suffers the same fate as once happened to Lake Winnisquam. The only difference is that Lake Tahoe is too big to restore once the damage becomes pervasive and property owners of all types will suffer harsh economic consequences.