By Darcie Goodman-Collins, PhD, League executive director
May 13, 2014
Tahoe’s boat inspections are again open for business. Inspectors are true heroes in the effort to Keep Tahoe Blue. They decontaminate thousands of boats each summer to ward off new invasive species. The top threats are quagga and zebra mussels, pests that multiply rapidly and have destroyed ecosystems in Eastern lakes and Nevada’s own Lake Mead. These invaders are right at our doorstep. A dozen boats a year show up at inspection stations with live mussels.
We recently learned the inspection program faces a $750,000 shortfall next year.
Imagine looking into Tahoe’s waters and not seeing a white sand bottom, but a thick mat of mussels. Mussels concentrate nutrients, starve native species of food and grow easily on hard surfaces like pipes, clogging equipment and causing severe economic problems.
Boat inspections are expensive. Tahoe’s program costs about $1.5 million per year. But if invasive mussels establish here, addressing the problems they cause would be far more expensive. We can’t afford to take this risk.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe is working on multiple fronts to ensure this critical program stays in place and is well funded.
The League was the first organization to raise money for invasive species prevention at Lake Tahoe. In 2008, we launched the Lake Tahoe Quagga Mussel Prevention Fund with the Tahoe Lakefront Homeowners Association. We raised $100,000 to help fund the first season of boat inspections and create Tahoe Keepers, a program to train paddlers how to inspect and clean their boats. We’re working with our members and partners to strategize on more funding opportunities.
However, it’s unrealistic to expect that private funds alone will be able to sustain the boat inspection program. Lake Tahoe is a public resource enjoyed by people across the nation. Since boating on Tahoe is a privilege, raising inspection fees should be considered. Alternatively, boat owners could choose to make their vessel “Tahoe only” to avoid fees altogether. In addition, the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, pending in Congress, could bring $415 million in funding for restoration, scientific research, and wildfire and invasive species prevention, including boat inspections. You can help by writing to your congressional representatives to express support for the Act.
Finally, community engagement is vital. Early detection and rapid response can save millions of dollars in control efforts. The League’s new volunteer program Eyes on the Lake engages recreationists to help map new infestations of aquatic weeds. We raised $30,000 last year to tackle invasive species with this program and we’re eager to grow it more. As summer arrives, we’ll be busy training new volunteers, including recreation groups like SCUBA clubs. Contact us to get involved.
Keeping invasive species out of Tahoe is essential to keeping it blue. Inspections are a small price to pay to keep a national resource like Lake Tahoe pristine. Funding this program should be one of our highest priorities.
This column first appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal on May 13, 2014.