Researcher fears politics could hold up Tahoe money

RENO, Nev. - One of the leaders of a new study on Lake Tahoe said Tuesday he's worried partisan politics could hold up federal funding needed fast to reverse the lake's alarming loss of clarity.

But Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., remain optimistic they'll be able to secure at least some of the $30 million they're angling for this year, their aides said.

The university researcher who led the team that just completed the assessment of Lake Tahoe said Senate Republicans may try to block the money so as to deny Feinstein a significant accomplishment in a re-election year.

''I fear since Dianne Feinstein is running for the Senate and she is the lead in terms of getting the Lake Tahoe bill through, her Republican colleagues might not want to let that bill get out of committee,'' said Dennis Murphy, a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee calls for $300 million over 10 years to pay for environmental projects to restore water quality and forest health in the Tahoe Basin.

Republican Reps. John Doolittle of California and Jim Gibbons of Nevada have provided key support for the measure in the GOP-controlled House, Murphy said.

''But bipartisan support in the Senate is largely absent because of the makeup of the delegations,'' Murphy said.

Sens. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., complete the rest of the two states' all-Democratic Senate delegations. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, supports the measure.

President Clinton pledged support for restoration efforts during an environmental summit at Lake Tahoe in 1997.

But so far, only ''incremental amounts'' of federal money have made it into the basin, Murphy said, including about $1.4 million to help finance the federal study being made public on Wednesday.

That study concludes the lake is continuing to lose its clarity of a rate of about 1 foot a year and that Tahoe's famous cobalt blue hue will turn a murky green within 30 years without intense restoration efforts.

''We could be four or five or six years after the presidential visit before the funds start to flow,'' said Murphy, one of 14 scientists from UNR, the University of California, Davis, and the federal government who worked on the report.

''I think all of us on the team agree that is an awful long time to squander,'' he said.

''We all seem to agree that at some point with lake clarity, we may cross some threshold and not be able to get back,'' he said.

''Many people think it is in the order of 10 years left to reverse it or we may find ourselves with something other than the fabled aqua waters of Lake Tahoe,'' he said.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held a hearing on the bill last week, is chaired by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Murkowski clashed with Nevada senators last week as the lead sponsor of a bill that would have sent nuclear waste to a permanent dump site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Gibbons is not aware of any trouble with the bill in the Senate, said Jay Cranford, the congressman's press secretary.

''I would like to see where (Murphy) is getting his information because we have heard nothing,'' Cranford said from Washington Tuesday night.

''We walked away from the hearing confident they were going to give the bill every chance to go through,'' he said.

Feinstein and Reid both serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee and may be able to secure this year's share of the 10-year spending plan through that committee regardless of whether the overall package is approved by Congress, their aides said.

''All hope is not lost if this one big bill does not go through,'' Reid's press secretary David Cherry said Tuesday night.

Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman said she is working closely with Doolittle.

''We feel it has strong bipartisan support. We'll hopeful we'll see action on the bill,'' he said.


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