The early storm event that began on January 7 with over 5 inches of rain in some regions of the Lake Tahoe Basin before turning to snow, delivered a massive amount of runoff to the Lake in a short period of time. During this storm event the Tahoe RCD Stormwater Monitoring Program measured the highest flows ever recorded at all eight monitoring locations since monitoring began in 2013. Our Tahoe Valley site, located off Tahoe Keys Blvd, measured 1.5 million cubic feet of flow, nearly 90% of the flow that was observed throughout the whole 2016 water year!
The Tahoe RCD monitors urban stormwater runoff around the Lake Tahoe Basin, providing the science that helps guide stormwater managers in environmental improvement project design and informs them if projects and management strategies have been successful in reducing pollutant loading to Lake Tahoe. Each stormwater sample is analyzed for fine sediment particles (FSP), nitrogen, and phosphorus to estimate nutrient and sediment loading from urban stormwater runoff. This last storm produced over 18 million gallons of runoff just from the sites we monitor alone. All data collected throughout a “water year”, October to September, is compiled into an annual monitoring report, given to stormwater managers and posted on the Tahoe RCD website. With successful implementation of environmental improvement projects that promote infiltration of runoff before it gets discharged to the lake, we have had the pleasure of retiring two of our urban stormwater monitoring sites as we saw significant reductions in pollutant loading from these locations.
The Stormwater Monitoring Program is continuously looking for ways to improve stormwater monitoring efforts. New for the 2017 monitoring season, the majority of our sites were outfitted with remote monitoring equipment, allowing us to monitor these sites with smartphones. The new remotely accessible equipment effectively allows our team to view what is happening at our monitoring sites in real time, and determine the best way to manage each individual site during storm events. Our scientific monitoring team is deployed in the most inclement of weather, because good science doesn’t take a break. The severity of this recent storm brought downed trees, dangerous road conditions, and a wealth of water. However, with these remote monitoring systems in place, our team was able to monitor all of our sites without making extensive trips into the field from the safety and comfort of our homes. This new remote technology allows for more reliable data management and easier data reporting.
What is the Environmental Improvement Program?
The Environmental Improvement (EIP) Program is a comprehensive restoration program launched in 1997 as a private and public partnership launched after the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum to protect and improve Lake Tahoe Basin’s natural and recreational resources. Hundreds of EIP projects are completed each year focusing on improving air, water, and scenic quality, forest health, fish and wildlife, and public access to the Lake and other recreation areas to improve the environment. Many are water quality improvement and erosion control projects which incorporate stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) implemented by the City, the Counties and state highways to reduce urban stormwater runoff to improve Lake clarity and near-shore conditions.
What is Urban Stormwater Runoff?
During rain storms and other precipitation events, hard surfaces such as roadways, concrete and rooftops carry stormwater to nearby storm drains and rivers that lead to Lake Tahoe instead of allowing the water to percolate through the soil. This natural filtering process is important for protecting Lake Tahoe’s clarity. The sediment and associated nutrients in stormwater runoff also feed algae and aquatic invasive species which negatively affect water quality, habitat, and aesthetic and recreation opportunities.
Do I still need to do my BMPs?
Yes. All private and public property owners in the Basin are required to install and maintain water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) on developed properties. BMPs are proven methods that prevent sediment and nutrients from entering our waters, can help slow or reverse the loss of Lake clarity and improve near shore conditions. The push for program participation by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency may heighten when local stormwater jurisdictions are implementing EIP projects in your neighborhood. These water quality improvement projects collect and treat stormwater from the public roads, and the right-of-way. The public is being asked to do their part as well by installing BMPs that typically include: paving dirt driveways, protecting soil under roof drip lines, stabilizing or retaining steep slopes and loose soil, and vegetating and mulching bare soils, and installing stormwater retention systems which capture stormwater allowing it to soak into the soil instead of runoff the property.
What is Source Control?
Source control BMPs are measures taken to specifically keep soil from leaving the property. This approach excludes stormwater infiltration systems such as drywells and infiltration basins when infiltration isn’t feasible due to steep slopes or high groundwater. When these measures are implemented on properties where stormwater infiltration is challenging, the TPRA has issued BMP Source Control Certificates to recognize that the property owner has implemented these basic sediment control measures. In some instances, private property owners have been able to install joint stormwater infiltration systems, due to limitation on one or more individual properties, which have allowed all of the properties to receive TRPA BMP Certificates of Completion.
What is Area-wide Stormwater Treatment?
Area-wide stormwater treatment is a new approach to implementing cost efficient and effective urban stormwater management practices. A handful of these area-wide projects are underway in the Tahoe Basin to ensure capture and treatment of urban stormwater runoff where conditions such as proximity to lake, high ground water, or steep slopes can limit stormwater infiltration. When these conditions exist, property owners may find that installing and maintaining BMPs on their property is significantly more challenging and costly. Participation in area-wide stormwater projects can offer incentives such as reduced capital outlay costs, joining a public-private partnership to maximize state and local funding and reduced maintenance costs.
What does the CWP program have to do with BMPs?
In order to assist with pollutant load reductions to Lake Tahoe, the Community Watershed Partnership (CWP) Program supports implementation of the Basin’s Environmental Improvement Program (EIP), a cooperative public/private effort to preserve, restore and enhance the environment of the Lake Tahoe Region. Through the development of the CWP Program the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (Tahoe RCD), the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District (NTCD), and the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) have provided extensive technical assistance and education to private property owners in order to contribute to the reduction of pollutants that effect Lake Tahoe’s unique clarity, beauty and bountiful natural resources for future generations.
Why do I want to practice Lake Friendly Landscaping?
Lake friendly landscaping encourages sustainable practices that protect the region’s natural resources in our own backyards and communities. Lake friendly landscaping encourages property owners to use water, fertilizer and pesticides wisely, and to use native and adapted plants to benefit wildlife habitat while reducing soil erosion and wildfire risk. Through the CWP program, property owners can participate in Lake friendly landscape stewardship practices in a fun and creative way.
With support from California Proposition 84 grant funds, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (Tahoe RCD) is leading the effort to measure pollutants in urban runoff at Lake Tahoe to help evaluate the combined effectiveness of pollutant control measures and consistently track and report monitoring findings. This effort, known as the Regional Storm Water Monitoring Program (RSWMP) is a collaborative program supported by regulatory agencies, local government representatives, and scientists in the Lake Tahoe region.
With the adoption of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Regional Plan Update and the bi-state Lake Tahoe clarity restoration plan known as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board (Lahontan Water Board), TRPA, and local government agencies need to evaluate how adopted plans and policies are affecting the lake, and quality of urban storm water that flows into Lake Tahoe is an important indicator. The RSWMP is a critical step in providing a comprehensive approach to monitoring stormwater around the Tahoe Basin.
The program has united academic scientists, environmental agencies, and private contractors who have developed various methods for monitoring stormwater in the Tahoe basin over the last decade to develop a collaborative, scientifically sound, cost-effective regional storm water monitoring approach. The Tahoe RCD, in partnership with the Water Board, the TRPA and other stakeholders will propose several monitoring methods to help basin managers and scientists implement urban storm water monitoring plans to assess status and trends, Best Management Practice effectiveness, and provide permit compliance monitoring.
The RSWMP project will provide an administrative structure for prioritizing urban stormwater monitoring expenditures, recommend cost-effective monitoring methods, help gather data to answer key resource management questions, and track basin-wide progress toward achieving Lake clarity goals.
In addition to programmatic development, the Tahoe RCD has initiated monitoring of several Tahoe Basin urban catchments and stormwater treatment facilities to assess the effectiveness of pollutant load reduction efforts. Initial monitoring work began in October 2013, and additional urban catchments will be monitored beginning October 2014.
The Proposition 84 resources will also support the implementation of a single comprehensive RSWMP database that will ultimately house both historic and new storm water quality data at Lake Tahoe and will be accessible online. Consistent data format and data analysis techniques will allow for ready comparison of results across all monitoring sites and data collection objectives.
The Tahoe RCD is providing technical and organizational support for program implementation. The Water Board, in partnership with the TRPA and a collection of local and regional stakeholders, serves as a technical advisor to the Tahoe RCD and its team of consultants and academic advisors. The RSWMP project is scheduled to begin monitoring in October 2014 and will continue with programmatic development through early 2015.
Click here for the official press release.
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