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Don’t Poison Our Drinking Water

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By JUDITH MICHAELS SIMON  |  Incline Village

Most of us would not consider taking a swig of herbicides triclopyr or imazamox as a chaser for a refreshing glass of Tahoe tap. How about penoxsulam or endothal? Yet, the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association is considering pouring these or other chemicals into Lake Tahoe to address invasive aquatic plants in its marina. Is the association merely looking at the cost benefits of using chemicals instead of physical removal of the weeds?

Herbicides threaten to permeate the water we drink. Currently, 54 percent of Lake Tahoe residents drink the 99 percent pure lake water. Our water could be imperiled by poisonings escaping into Tahoe’s depth, staying there for years. Communities that now minimally process drinking water would have to reevaluate and modify their processes to address a herbicide’s residual effects.

Controlling invasive plants is daunting. The 740-acre private community of Tahoe Keys, with 11 miles of shallow inland waterways constructed in the 1960s, has been called the most damaging intrusion on the lakeshore in Lake Tahoe’s human history. The association has commissioned a study, hoping to mitigate rising costs to control the marina’s Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed. But poisoning our lake for the convenience of homeowners — who, admittedly, bought their dream homes, boats, and docks in good faith — is not the answer.

Sierra Ecosystem Associates issued its 291 page Integrated Weed Management Plan on August 11, outlining physical and chemical control methods. Please don’t pat me on the head and assert that a little herbicide will not harm me.  

The truth is that we don’t know the effects of using these poisons in Lake Tahoe, nor will we know until it is too late. While I understand the association’s reluctance to incur additional expenses to lessen the impact of the marina’s weeds, I cannot sympathize with proposals to put herbicides into our lake. And while the draft report carefully outlines advantages and disadvantages, I note on page 64 a very troubling sentence: “The herbicides for use in the U.S. and California are relatively nontoxic to fish and humans...” I’m just not reassured by the term “relative.”

I doubt that simply voicing concerns through a website to the association and its hired experts will be enough, though none of us should skip that step. In October, finalized recommendations go to the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. However, Lahontan already approved changes to its overall Basin plan in 2012 that would allow the use of pesticides in Lake Tahoe.

So, what’s next? I understand that the Environmental Protection Agency must approve particular herbicides, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency may well have a role. I urge you to join me in saying no to the Tahoe Keys proposal to dump herbicides into Lake Tahoe.  Follow the issue at and read the plan at

~ Judith Michaels Simon, a world traveler who has visited all seven continents, lives in Incline Village. She serves on the Sierra Nevada College Poetry Center Advisory Committee and Nevada’s Council on Libraries and Literacy.

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Reader comments so far...

Margaret Shelleda | Kingvale
Surely there must be better and safer methods of dealing with invasive plants than risking the poisoning of our treasured Lake Tahoe!
Steve Urie's picture

Steve Urie | Truckee
Margaret, there is already a better and safer way to deal with the aquatic plants that are choking the canals in the Tahoe Keys and that is to continue to harvest them mechanically, as the Keys’ property owners association has done for more than a decade. But that isn’t the real issue. Two others are driving the TKPOA’s desire to use herbicides. The weed control cost is already more than $400,000 a year and the mechanical harvesters are no longer able to keep up with the weeds. And one that is never mentioned is that the canals are beginning to look like a Louisiana swamp. The average cost of a home in the Keys is right at $1 million. Most were purchased when the canals were still clear of weeds and swimmable. As TRPA’s Aquatic Invasive Species plan points out invasive weeds can dramatically affect property values. In 2009 TRPA projected that property value decreases due to reduced aesthetics could be as much as $261 million. Last year, that amount was raised to $629 million, which would result in a loss of $13.1 million in property taxes. I believe those numbers are grossly exaggerated, but there is little doubt that Tahoe Keys property owners would like to see their backyard canals weed-free again, and mechanical harvesters aren’t going to cut it. About a quarter of the stream inflow into Lake Tahoe comes from the Upper Truckee River. The Keys was built on about half of the wetlands at the mouth of the river. No one disputes that by punching a hole in nature’s natural filter that the Tahoe Keys is the primary culprit in the reduction of the lake’s clarity and acts as a veritable Garden of Eden for all of Tahoe’s invasive species. There is an attractive alternative method to harvesting the weeds or killing them with herbicides. That is to fill in the backyard canals and turn them into parkways — and park the boats in an enlarged property owners’ marina.

Judymike | Incline Village
The solution of filling in the backyard canals and turn them into parkways and parking the boats in an enlarged property owners’ marina seems like a good one. I didn’t see that option in the TKPOA report. It would also solve the problem of runoff from lawn fertilizers getting into the lake.

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June 14, 2018