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Lake Tahoe Basin
David Buchler

Originally, the Lake Tahoe Basin was the summer home of Indian tribes.
Discovery of \u201cartifacts confirm the presence of the Washoe Tribe of Native Americans at
Lake Tahoe over 10,000 years ago.\u201d1

In 1844 the Basin was \u201cdiscovered\u201d by John
Fremont and Kit Carson.2 Initially targeted for its vast timber stands which were cut to
support the mining boom, the crystal clear water and beauty of the basin quickly attracted
developers and tourists.3 Soon thereafter development began to adversely impact the
basin and its water quality.

Today, those who attempt to manage the Lake Tahoe Basin are faced with the
difficult task of balancing competing interests. The economy of the Lake Tahoe Basin is
predominantly based on lodging and gaming; real estate (including finance and
insurance), and; recreation.4 \u201cTourism amounts to 23 million visitor-days per year.\u201d5 In
addition to the millions of annual visitors the Basin \u201cis home to approximately 60,000
year-round residents.\u201d6 While most are drawn by the aesthetic beauty of the Lake Tahoe
Basin and its favorable climate, the interests and goals of locals, tourists, and big business
are often at odds.

The location of Lake Tahoe brings into play a myriad of water related issues
including, but not limited to, Congressional apportionment, interbasin transfers, interstate

1www.keept ahoebl ue.org
4ht t p:/ / www.t i i m s.org/C ont ent / B asi nTopi cs/ econdem og/ defaul t .asp
5 Kocher, Cobourn, Natural Resources Issues in the Lake Tahoe Basin: An Extension Needs Assessment,

January 2007 (University of California and University of Nevada Cooperative Extention).
6www.regi onal pl anni ngp art ners. com

water disputes, federally reserved water rights, federal compacts, the Federal Endangered
Species Act, and Fifth Amendment Takings. In discussing some of these interests and
issues, this paper will provide a brief overview of the Lake Tahoe basin; the development
of the basin and the impact development has had on water quality; regulatory responses
to development, and; conclude by discussing current challenges and potential
management solutions.

Lake Tahoe \u2013 An Overview

The Lake Tahoe Basin is located approximately ninety miles from Sacramento
and 150 miles from San Francisco.7 Its watershed covers an area of 511 square miles
with the Lake occupying 192 square miles of the total area.8 The Basin straddles the
California Nevada boarder; two-thirds of the watershed is located in California and the
remainder in Nevada.9 At the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe lies its only outlet, the
Truckee River, which is the main source of water for the cities of Reno and Sparks.10 The
river makes its way northeast for approximately 110 miles, running through Reno and
Sparks, eventually emptying into Pyramid Lake, home to \u201ctwo species of fish ... listed
under the federal Endangered Species Act, the threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and
the endangered Cui-ui.11 Pyramid Lake is wholly located on the Pyramid Paiute

7www.m apquest .com
8F ink, Public Land Acquisition for Environmental Protection: Structuring a Program for the Lake Tahoe
Basin, 18 Ecology L.Q. 485 (1991). [herein after Structuring a Program for the Lake Tahoe Basin].
9 Imperial, Kauneckis, Moving From Conflict to Collaboration: Watershed Governance in Lake Tahoe, 43
Nat. Resources J. 1009, 1015 (2003). [herein after Watershed Governance in Lake Tahoe].
10Kramer, Lake Tahoe, The Truckee River, and Pyramid Lake: The Past, Present, and Future of Interstate
Water Issues, 19 Pac. L.J. 1339, 1340 (1998). [hereinafter Lake Tahoe Interstate Water Issues].
12www.nat ure.o rg; www.usgs.gov

It is worth noting that these three bodies of water: Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and
the Truckee River; were the subjects of a congressional apportionment 1990, which
\u201cdivid[ed] the waters ... between California and Nevada.\u201d13 This was the second and only
other time that Congress has exercised this power (under the Commerce Clause/Article I,
\u00a7 8, and; the Supremacy Clause/Article VI, cl. 2); the other instance being \u201cin the 1928
Boulder Canyon Project Act ...\u201d14

Lake Tahoe is twenty-two miles long, twelve miles wide, and has maximum depth
of 1646 feet,15 making it the world\u2019s eleventh deepest lake.16 To put the size of Lake
Tahoe into context, there is enough water in it to cover an area the size of California in
fourteen inches of water.17 Put another way, there is enough water in Lake Tahoe to
provide every person in the United States with fifty gallons of water per day for five

In addition to the remarkable volume and depth of water in Lake Tahoe, the
clarity of its water is extraordinary. In Roughing It, Mark Twain described the water of
Lake Tahoe as \u201cnot merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so.\u201d19

The dazzling
transparency of its water has, in part, led the United States Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) to designate Lake Tahoe an \u201cOutstanding National Resource Water.\u201d20
This designation has only been conferred on two other bodies of water west of the
continental divide: Mono Lake (California), and Crater Lake (Oregon).21 Because of this

13 Sax, et al. Legal Control of Water Resources, Cases and Materials 4th Edition, 836 (ThompsonWest)

14Id. at 835.
15ht t p:/ / www.keept aho ebl ue.org/ f act s/ fun.php
16www.wat e rboards. ca.gov/ l ahont an/ TMDL.T ahoe/ T ahoe _Index.ht m
19 M. Twain, Roughing It, 174 \u2013 175 (1872).
20ht t p:/ / www.nt cd.org/ com m uni t y_i ssues.ht m
21ht t p:/ / www.t rpa.org/ de faul t .aspx?t abi d =95


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