*Correction: The Dec. 10 version of this story stated that Obama signed the LTRA into law shortly following passage in the Senate, however, the LTRA still awaits presidential signature as of Dec. 14. The original title and subhead have been changed to reflect this.
*Update: The LTRA was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16.
The seven-year process to pass the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act (S.1724) (LTRA) culminated in a final, down to the wire, congressional hurdle Saturday night, passing as an addition to the larger Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN). The Senate passed the LTRA immediately after approving a stopgap spending bill to continue government funding into April and avoid government shutdown with an hour to spare late Friday night, and then went home for the holidays. The White House issued a statement confirming that Obama had signed the act into law less than 90 minutes after it was passed in the senate.
“Federal policy is once again focused on preserving Lake Tahoe for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” said United States Senator Dean Heller in a press release Saturday morning. “Important initiatives addressing the numerous threats the lake faces will now be set into motion. The importance of this legislation and what it means to the Tahoe Basin cannot be understated.”
Because the LTRA is only an authorizing bill, the arduous process of apportioning funds will now begin, but for now the hardest part is almost over. California and Nevada delegations have been working to reauthorize the LTRA since it expired seven years ago, and the reauthorization allows for funding for the next seven years. Local environmental groups like the League to Save Lake Tahoe can breathe a bit easier today, as they prepare for the work ahead.
“This is a great day for Lake Tahoe,” said Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD, the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, in a press release. “We are thrilled that Congress has passed the full Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, intact with the protections we supported. We are grateful for the hard work of our Senate delegation under the sponsorship of Nevada Senators Dean Heller and Harry Reid and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. This landmark legislation will provide over $400 million in critical public funds for environmental restoration projects, the control of aquatic invasive species and to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Once signed by President Obama, this legislation will allow essential actions to protect Lake Tahoe to move ahead, increasing the likelihood that we’ll be able to Keep Tahoe Blue now and for future generations.”
The LTRA by the numbers:
Wildfire Prevention: Provides $150 million for fire risk reduction and forest management. These dollars go toward fuel reduction projects in high-risk areas to restore forest health and wildlife habitat. A House provision focused on streamlining approvals for these types of activities was also included.
The Environmental Improvement Program (EIP): Provides $80 million to jumpstart projects spanning from new bike trails to creek restoration and fire treatment. Some previous EIP projects that have benefited the region include the Heavenly Gondola and Village, the Angora Fire rehabilitation, Lake View Commons, the Sand Harbor Visitor Center, and the Incline Creek Restoration.
The Invasive Species Management Program: Provides $45 million to prevent the introduction of the quagga mussel and manage other harmful invasive species like the Asian clam. This includes lake-wide aquatic invasive species control and a watercraft inspection program.
Stormwater Projects: Sets aside $113 million to implement stormwater management, erosion control, and watershed restoration projects. Stormwater runoff from roads and the urban areas in the basin, vehicle exhaust, altered wetlands and streams, and inadequate stormwater pollution control have significantly impacted Lake Tahoe’s famous clarity.
The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Program: Allocates $20 million to recover the Lahontan cutthroat trout — a federally threatened species and Nevada’s state fish.
Increases Accountability and Oversight: Provides $5 million to ensure projects will have monitoring and assessment in order to determine the most cost-effective projects and ensure dollars are properly utilized.
Overall Management Improvement: Sets aside $2 million to cover the cost of land exchanges and sales on both the California and Nevada sides of the Tahoe Basin that will improve efficiencies of public land management.
Also included in the bill was $170 million in infrastructure aid to Flint, Michigan, and other communities affected by lead and water issues, as well as a drought relief measure that brought up a last minute argument from one of the bill’s authors, California Senator Barbara Boxer. Boxer said a last minute rider addition to the bill by Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to increase drought relief and water flow through California bypassed the Endangered Species Act and put the interests of big farms over the fishing industry.