Good, but not good enough: that seems to be the main conclusion drawn from a report conducted by a team of UC Davis scientists looking into efforts to restore Lake Tahoe over the past decade. A collection of meteorological data and tens of thousands of observations on water conditions and aquatic life dating back to the 1960s — the report indicates that efforts to restore the lake need to accelerate dramatically if we are to help it cope with the growing influence of global warming. Already, the researchers found that rain is starting to replace snow, water temperatures are rising (setting a new record of 78°F in July 2006), invasive species are spreading and days and nights are getting warmer.
Previous efforts had mainly focused on restoring the lake's brilliant clarity — which had decreased from 102 ft to a low of 64 ft in 1997 — by orchestrating a series of steps designed to reduce the amount of erosion and pollution affecting it. Unfortunately, global warming has threatened to wipe out most of the progress made over the last decade: the water's clarity declined by 4.6 ft just last year — due in large part to a rise in precipitation — to a near-low depth of 67.7 ft.
"The lake's ecosystem is at a point where it is changing rapidly. We can't stop climate change, but we can account for it. Business as usual won't bring us to where we need to be," said Geoff Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the study's lead author.
Notch one up to global warming, say the researchers, who go on to demonstrate that the average annual rainfall has increased by 84% from 2001 to 2005 and that snowfall has fallen from more than half in 1911 to only 34% today. Over the latter period, night temperatures also rose more than 4°F.
Rochelle Nason, the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, estimates that it will cost $2 - 3 billion over the next decade to stabilize the lake's condition. She advocates restoring more than 1,000 acres of wetlands to help stem the flow of sediment and pollutants entering the lake and conserving as much land around the lake as possible. In addition, Schladow says that urgent measures need to be taken to eliminate the threat posed by invasive species such as the Eurasian water milfoil, carp and bass.
If we don't act immediately, Schladow cautions, things will get a lot hairier a lot quicker.
See also: ::Coal Fired Electricity Loses Its Toe-Hold In Tahoe, ::Update on Lake Inferior, ::Chicago Still Fighting For Future Of Lake Michigan..And Cheap Gas
Image courtesy of Tracy Vierra via flickr