Tahoe boating conditions good, but concern over future persists

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KGO) -- The summer tourist season is in full swing at Lake Tahoe right now, with the water level almost a foot higher than it was at the same time last year. Experts say the level has peaked for the summer, but relatively good boating conditions are expected to last for a couple of months.

Even so, the lake is almost three feet below average and the Tahoe community is planning for tough decisions ahead on how to manage the shoreline.

Bob Hassett owns the Camp Richardson Marina at the south end of Tahoe and he's worried climate change could threaten the tourist-dependent economy around the lake. "If the water level drops, the boats won't be able to get into the marina," he said.

Hassett's marina already has a floating dock to extend the pier into deeper water. But nearby, in front of private homes with smaller piers, the problem is obvious. Many of the piers barely reach the water's edge and are now so much higher than the lake, it's impossible to launch a boat. And the situation may get a lot worse.

Julie Regan with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, or TRPA, says the area faces major climate challenges over the next few decades. A study by the U.S. Interior Department predicts warming temperatures in the air and the water, less snow pack and more frequent droughts.

The projections come as the TRPA is working on new rules for the lake's shoreline, the area where the water meets the shore.

The agency has been trying to settle on regulations for thirty years, but there has been an intense battle between environmental groups, homeowners and businesses. The regulations will cover a wide range of issues involving waterfront building - including adding or improving piers, the number of buoys allowed to tie up boats and even possible dredging to make the channels deeper.

An earlier set of regulations was finalized in 2008. But they were thrown out when then environmental group, League to Save Lake Tahoe, sued and won. Executive director Darcie Goodman Collins says the rules, "allowed for a massive increase of boating on the lake, without adequate mitigation."

Now, with a desperate need for an updated shoreline policy, the various factions are pledging to work together, starting with research and a joint fact finding process.

Goodman-Collins says it is critical to learn more about the real impacts of boating on the lake.

Bob Hassett, who represents the Lake Tahoe Marina Association, agrees. He says marinas and boat owners want to protect the lake as much, if not more, than everyone else. "We make our livelihood out here. So it's really important to make sure that the science backs up whatever we are looking to do."

For more information about the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's shoreline plan, click here.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney
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