Researchers Study Environmental Changes in Lake Tahoe - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Researchers Study Environmental Changes in Lake Tahoe

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The University of Nevada is teaming up with the Desert Research Institute and UC Davis to study a variety of environmental impacts on Lake Tahoe. Most of their studies have focused on the middle of the lake, but now they are shifting a little closer to shore.    

Researchers have been studying Lake Tahoe for more than 30 years, and in that time, they've noticed a steady decline in the lake's health. Researchers are using the university's Aquatic Ecosystems Lab boat to study near-shore water clarity and the bottom of Lake Tahoe.

"Tracking when changes are happening, why they're happening, what's going on in the watershed to cause things to get better or to get worse in the near shore," Alan Heyvaert, Associate Research Professor at DRI said.

Researchers say the lake has had dramatic changes since the 1960s, and not for the better.

"There's a slight hue of green, this year," Sudeep Chandra, Associate Professor of Limnology at UNR said. "As soon as you go about 100 feet offshore, it starts turning blue."

Plant life in the lake is diminishing, likely because of decreased lake clarity that blocks out sunlight and because invasive species eat or trample them. Scientists say the amount of roads and vehicles also has an impact on the ecosystem, grinding up dirt into fine particles that could end up in the lake. But work is being done to improve water quality.

"We control the disturbance of lands," Heyvaert said. "We control the use of fertilizer. We're managing our storm water runoff so that we're treating it or infiltrating it before it gets to the lake."

Native species at the bottom of the lake have declined by 80% to 99%, and several invasive species have been introduced. Boats have to be inspected to prevent more from coming in, and one company has invented a filter called the Mussel Master. It goes into the motor area of the boat, aiming to trap invasive species.

"It lets the water from the bilge water, contained in the boat, filter through," Chandra said. "So, that way, when a boat comes to a lake, it won't introduce new species.

Another company is harvesting crawdads from the lake, for commercial sales. They even have the crawfish festival, in Stateline.

"I think those are great ways of having casinos and businesses, trying to promote the removal of those invasive crayfish," Chandra said.  

Researchers say private partnerships, like these will help the lake rebound, especially since public funding is very hard to come by.  Climatic changes are also happening outside of the lake. An observer station, in Tahoe City, shows that the summertime overnight low temperatures have risen an average of two to four degrees in the last 100 years.
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