Tahoe Resource Conservation District

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Paving the Road to Lake Clarity

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Roads_SW Press Release

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – July 17, 2017

Keeping roads in good condition in the Tahoe Basin has always been a struggle, especially when winters wreak havoc on the asphalt surface.  While diligently removing snow so that we may all travel safely, heavy snow removal equipment, with large tires covered in hefty chains, chew up the surface of the road.  Road sand, critical in keeping vehicles from sliding on icy roads, combined with normal vehicular traffic, also grind and crush the pavement surface.  The frequent freeze and thaw process contributes to asphalt cracking.  Dodging pot holes is a requirement for driving safely in the Tahoe Basin.  In turn, poor road conditions damage vehicles, increasing the cost of vehicle maintenance. 

“Vehicle wear such as popped tires and worn shocks and struts are costs the public pays for inadvertently, and may be greater than or equal to the cost of investing in improving the road surface” says Russ Wigart, Stormwater Program Coordinator with El Dorado County.

It is obvious that poor road conditions lead to more dangerous driving and cycling conditions, unsightly roads, and more wear and tear on vehicles, and higher maintenance costs.  However, there is a new reason to care about the condition of our roads — water quality.  Degrading pavement contributes to an increase in fine sediment particle concentration in stormwater runoff.  Fine sediment particles, or FSP, are the leading cause of lake clarity decline. 

“When the pavement surface gets destroyed by heavy equipment, chains, and normal vehicular traffic, the degraded asphalt gradually gets ground into smaller and smaller particles, resulting in very small sediment particles.  When these tiny particles get into Lake Tahoe via stormwater runoff, they stay suspended in the water column because gravity is not strong enough to settle them to the bottom.  This makes the lake look cloudy” says Andrea Buxton, Stormwater Program Manager at the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.

A recent study, conducted by El Dorado County, UC Davis, and Texas Southern University, collected stormwater samples from two roads in South Lake Tahoe to identify the major sources of clarity reducing FSP in urban runoff.  Molecular markers were used to calculate the fraction of FSP that came from each source.  The major sources were road-side soil, pavement wear, and traction abrasives (road sand). There were no significant differences between the two sampling sites.

“The results of our study suggest that pavement wear is the second largest source of fine sediment in urban stormwater runoff and fine sediment directly affects Lake Tahoe’s clarity” says Wigart.

Depending on the time of year and type of precipitation the contribution of FSP to urban stormwater runoff from road-side soil ranged from 20%-70%, pavement wear ranged from 18%-53%, and traction abrasives ranged from 7%-21%.

Additionally, a smooth road in good condition is much easier to sweep.  Road sweeping machines are much more effective at picking up the fine sediment that inevitably ends up on the road surface if that surface is not covered in cracks and potholes that retain sediment.

Asphalt mix design has come a long way in the last decade and is now engineered for better durability. Adding polymers to the mix increases surface elasticity, allowing the road surface to better resist temperature changes and wear and tear from tire chains and heavy equipment. This not only limits the production of FSP from the road surface, but reduces the cost of road upkeep as well. The City of South Lake Tahoe has been using polymer based asphalt for the last several years but it is estimated that less than ten miles of roads have been repaved with the new mix to date.

These findings imply that maintaining pavement in good condition could positively impact urban stormwater quality and ultimately lake clarity.  El Dorado County and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District would like to continue investigating the relationship between high quality roads and reduced FSP in urban stormwater runoff.

“Our ultimate goal is to get good pavement condition recognized as a Best Management Practice (BMP) for improving urban stormwater quality in the Lake Tahoe Basin” says Buxton, “the results would be a win for the lake and a win for the public.”

“Combining better roads with responsible snow removal and sanding operations could be the future for improving driving experience, reducing vehicle wear, and improving lake clarity” says Wigart.  

To stay up to date with the Lake Tahoe Regional Stormwater Monitoring Program please visit https://monitoring.laketahoeinfo.org/RSWMP.

Angora

Five Ways to Keep Fire on the Agenda – by Dr. Elwood Miller, Coordinator for the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities

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A Fire Adapted Community is one where the people have totally prepared themselves and the place they call home for surviving the inevitable presence of wildfire.  To achieve this state of preparation, people need to change the way they think about their vulnerability as well as that of their house and the landscape where they live.  They need to include the presence of fire as part of the community culture.  Changing the culture of a community requires exposure to information that presents an alternate way of thinking about and picturing the surroundings and the structure, as well as personal behavior.  Providing this information is not a “one and done” event but rather a well-planned communication scheme that involves routine and frequent delivery of the message.  It means putting fire on the agenda; every agenda available.

In the fall of 2014 twenty seven successful community leaders were interviewed to learn from their experience and identify the methods they employed to keep fire on the agenda in their community.  The top five approaches used to change the culture of their community are listed below in rank order of importance:

  1. Defensible space inspections of the house and landscape.  This was consistently reported as the most effective educational tool available.
  2. Distribution of high quality, professionally prepared material such as that available from the Living With Fire Program and the local fire department.  Having this material available at all times and at all community gatherings was an important component of keeping fire on the agenda.
  3. Personal contact through door-to-door campaigns.  No means of communication is more important or effective than personal contact and face-to-face conversation.
  4. Presentations by respected fire professionals.  Taking advantage of every available opportunity to have fire service professionals speak directly to members of the community brings credibility to the fire message.  Their involvement also builds trust and creates a strong partnership that reinforces the shift in the community’s culture and enhances efforts to be prepared.  Opportunities for presentations may be readily available or may have to be planned as neighborhood get-togethers.
  5.  Routine and frequent distribution of notices, reminders, personal letters, news articles, personal stories, newsletters, and photographs.  While all of this takes time and commitment, it is an effective way to keep people reminded that fire is a part of the culture and preparation for its occurrence is critical for the survival of the entire community.  The utilization of social media can be very effective in keeping the message alive.

Whether you use one or all of these methods, the most important first step in adapting a community for fire is to create a fire culture.  Using these methods will put fire on the agenda and greatly advance the mission of survival. 

JohnsonMeadows

Additional Funding Secured for Johnson Meadow Acquisition

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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) today announced the award of up to $4,000,000 in Proposition 1 funds to the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (Tahoe RCD) to partner with the California Tahoe Conservancy and the Tahoe Fund to seek acquisition of the Johnson Meadows Property located in South Lake Tahoe. The approximately 209-acre property is the largest privately owned meadow in the Lake Tahoe Basin and the last large private property holding in the lower nine miles of the Upper Truckee River (UTR).

The funding from DFW combines with $4,234,000 awarded to the Tahoe RCD by the California Tahoe Conservancy in March 2016. The Tahoe Fund is also a funding partner and will be seeking to raise an additional $100,000 to help secure the entire $8,315,000 necessary to acquire the Property.

“If completed, the acquisition of the Johnson Meadow Property will be one of the most important public land purchases in the last decade in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” said Kim Boyd, District Manager at the Tahoe RCD. “The Property would connect over 1,000 acres of UTR floodplain in near continuous public ownership within the UTR’s lower nine miles.”

Acquisition of the Property would preserve wildlife habitat and open space, create public access to the UTR, and prevent additional environmental degradation from grazing. Additionally, acquisition of the property could lead to potential future restoration opportunities such as floodplain enhancement, sediment filtration improvement, and wet meadow habitat enrichment.

“This potential acquisition places virtually the entire river corridor in public ownership,” said California Tahoe Conservancy Executive Director Patrick Wright, who noted that the Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, the City of South Lake Tahoe, and California State Parks have all been working to restore various stretches of the river, the largest watershed in the Lake Tahoe Basin and the highest contributor of fine sediment that impacts the lake’s clarity. The Tahoe RCD hopes to complete negotiations with the land owners to enable the acquisition by the end of 2017.

Tahoe RCD seeking volunteers for 2nd Annual Tahoe Farm Day – Sept 16, 2014

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Last year 570 3rd and 4th grade students attended the first annual Tahoe Farm Day.  The event included presentations such as Composting with Worms, Beneficial Bats, and Your Carbon Footprint as well as live animal exhibits!  Click here to read the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s article about last year’s successful event!

The Tahoe RCD is seeking volunteers to help out with the 2nd annual Tahoe Farm Day which will be held at Camp Richardson on September 16th, 2014.  We need presenters as well as people to help setup and breakdown the event.  The event covers the themes of Food, Fiber, Shelter, and Soils. If you would like to volunteer, please contact us at contact@tahoercd.org with your name, email, phone number, and topic you are interested in presenting and/or interest in setup and breakdown of the event. 

Reflection on 2013 Tahoe Expo

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Thank you to our partners at Sustainable Tahoe for producing this beautiful video showcasing the 2013 Tahoe Expo. We are looking forward to another great event!

2014 Tahoe Expo, August 30th: Check out the event website for more information on how to get involved.