- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Environmentalists in the Sierra Nevada praised congressional approval of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act as a critical step necessary to continue efforts to reverse a long-term drop in the clarity of the mountain lake’s azure waters.

The act approved Friday as part of a larger national package of infrastructure improvements authorizes up to $415 million in federal appropriations at the lake over the next seven years.

Tahoe advocates who had been concerned that President-elect Donald Trump might not sign the measure into law were relieved it is now headed to the desk of President Obama.

“It’s a great day for Lake Tahoe,” said Darcie Goodman Collins, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Once signed by President Obama, this legislation will allow essential actions to protect Lake Tahoe to move ahead, increasing the likelihood that we’ll be able to ‘Keep Tahoe Blue’ now and for future generations.”

Two longtime backers of restoration efforts at the lake - Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. - voted against the overall bill because they say an amendment attached to the measure by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will allow more water to be pumped into the California’s Central Valley to benefit agriculture at the expense of the salmon industry.

But Joanne Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said the importance of the bipartisan legislation “cannot be overstated.”

Underwater visibility stretched to a depth of 105 feet at Lake Tahoe in 1968 when scientists first measured it by lowering a white, dinner-plate-sized disk into the water until it disappeared.

Clarity worsened by 30 percent over the next three decades - about a foot a year - falling to a record-poor 64 feet in 1997. The rate of the loss of clarity has since slowed, registering 73 feet last year.

The act authorizes the spending for environmental restoration projects, including the control of aquatic invasive species and reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire.

“Federal policy is once again focused on preserving Lake Tahoe for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. “Important initiatives addressing the numerous threats the lake faces will now be set into motion.”

Heller co-sponsored the bill along with Sens. Reid, Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as well as Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and John Garamendi, D-Calif.

The bill includes:

- $150 million for fire risk reduction and forest management.

- $113 million for stormwater runoff pollution reduction.

- $80 million for environmental improvement projects that can range from bike trails to creek restoration.

- $45 million for invasive species management.

- $20 million for Lahontan cutthroat trout recovery.

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