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Lake Tahoe clarity drops nearly 10 feet

KCRA Sacramento logo KCRA Sacramento 6/14/2018

A new study released Wednesday by UC Davis is raising concerns about the clarity of Lake Tahoe. The numbers show it's tougher than ever to see deep into the lake that thousands of people visit every year.

New scientific readings from the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center show lake clarity was down to 59.7 feet in 2017 -- a drop of nearly 10 feet from the year before.

"The clarity at Lake Tahoe is now at its lowest point ever recorded," said Geoff Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Project.

a boat floating on a body of water © Mike Luery/KCRA 3

Schladow said the low clarity levels were like a perfect storm of nature resulting from five years of drought, followed by record rains that brought large volumes of sediment into the lake.

"A freak -- because of the ending of the most severe drought we’ve had in 1,600 years plus the worst winter ever recorded in this region," Schladow said.

The findings are a concern for environmentalists and planning agencies.

"I think we are all, by and large, expecting the clarity to take a hit," said Tom Lotshaw, public information officer with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

TRPA manages growth and development on the lake, including construction now underway along the north shore. But, the group said it is working to reduce runoff into the lake.

"Doing stream restoration projects to reduce the amount of erosion, the amount of sediment from coming into the lake," Lotshaw said. He added TRPA is also "restoring meadows and wetlands that act as natural filters."

For vacationers at Lake Tahoe, being able to see deep into the waters is one of the reasons why they come to this jewel of the Sierra.

"We need to keep it clean," Roseville resident Jeanne Bujan said. "We need to keep it clear. My kids need to come here."

"That's why we come here, to have a beautiful lake," Santa Cruz resident Debbie Puente said. "We drive many hours to get here and enjoy every minute of it."

Schladow said that early readings for 2108 present a much brighter picture, with lake clarity reaching about 65 feet -- an indication that Lake Tahoe is recovering naturally.

California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called the 2017 clarity results "frustrating." In a statement she added, "It doesn't negate the progress we've made in restoring Lake Tahoe."

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