Senate gives final OK to $300 million for Lake Tahoe

WASHINGTON - The Senate gave final approval Friday to a bill authorizing $300 million for environmental programs to protect Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra on the California-Nevada border.

The measure now moving to the president's desk is a key element of a $900 million federal-state-local government effort over the next 10 years to stop further environmental degradation in and around the lake.

In announcing the Senate action, Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., one of the sponsors of the Senate version of the bill, borrowed Mark Twain's description of Tahoe as ''the fairest picture the whole earth affords.''

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., another sponsor, termed the Senate's approval of the House version of the bill ''great news for one of the environmental crown jewels of our nation.''

Reps. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., John Doolittle, R-Calif., and Robert Matsui, D-Calif., cosponsored the House version. Other sponsors in the Senate included Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

The legislation authorizes the funding over the next 10 years for erosion control and environmental restoration projects deemed critical to preserving Tahoe.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore hosted an environmental forum at Tahoe in July 1997, calling national attention to the problems that threaten the lake's ecosystem.

At that time, experts estimated $908 million worth of projects needed to be completed within a decade to prevent Lake Tahoe's clear, azure blue waters from turning green. Once that happens, scientists say the damage couldn't be reversed.

The lake is losing an average of a foot of clarity each year because of algae growth in its waters, a problem largely associated with development around the Tahoe Basin.

One test for clarity is to lower a white plate into the lake. Scientists say the plate could be seen at a depth of 105 feet in 1967 - but now disappears from view at 70 feet.


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