University researcher in spotlight at 2010 Tahoe Summit

University researcher in spotlight at 2010 Tahoe Summit

Diversifying Lake Tahoe’s economy was clearly on the minds of the attendees during the 2010 Lake Tahoe Summit Tuesday at Sand Harbor near Incline Village.

Remarks from Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein underscored this message.

“This year,” said Reid, whose personal request in 1996 to President Bill Clinton led to the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997, “I wanted to expand our vision a bit. We all know that while Lake Tahoe is a very special place, it’s not immune to what’s happening (economically) in the country.”

Still, even with the focus on sustaining the Tahoe Basin economy, it was interesting to note that only one active Tahoe researcher had his or her work specifically singled out for its excellence by one of the featured speakers.

It was Feinstein who thanked University of Nevada, Reno scientist Sudeep Chandra for his research in developing innovative methods to fight invasive species that are threatening Tahoe’s ecology.

Feinstein correctly noted that without healthy Tahoe ecology, there can be no healthy Tahoe economy.

And during a presentation given by Chandra, an associate professor of natural resources and environmental science, Feinstein said she learned that “fingernail sized and sharp as razors” Asian clams have created a pocket of infestation stretching from Zephyr Point to the south shore of Lake Tahoe.

“They would be three and a half miles long if they were laid end to end,” Feinstein said. “But we learned from Dr. Sudeep Chandra from the University of Nevada that a control strategy will work (in eliminating the threat). This shows we can solve the problem.”

Afterward, Chandra was quick to credit several others, including Tahoe Regional Planning Agency executive director Joanne Marchetta. While Chandra briefed federal policymakers from a science perspective, Marchetta reinforced the message by addressing policy that has come from sound science conducted at Lake Tahoe.

“(Sen. Feinstein) convened a roundtable discussion amongst different stakeholders, scientists, business owners, to try to develop a private-public partnership and she wanted specific updates from the science community on the different topics that we’re trying to tackle here,” Chandra said. “So it was very exciting to talk to her.

“The director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Joanne Marchetta, and myself gave her an update from the policy side and the science side of the activities that have occurred in the last 13 months. We acknowledged and let the senator know that the money that has been sent to tackle the invasive species in Tahoe is being used very efficiently. First, to try and control some of the invasive species which are in the lake, such as clams, or invasive plants or fish. And second, to try and prevent any other invaders coming in.”

Chandra said the research done with Asian clams that Feinstein mentioned is showing great promise. Using “a very simple black tarp barrier at the bottom of the lake,” Chandra said researchers have studied a smaller plot and a larger plot on the southeastern part of the lake.

“And we’re finding out that you can suffocate clams within 28 days and pretty much remove them from certain areas of the lake,” he said. “We did let the senator know that it’s still in the pilot testing phase. It’s very simple technology, but we’re also affecting the native biodiversity. So, we’re currently trying to see what the recovery of the native biodiversity is in those spots.

“It seems like there’s a promising technique out there, but we still need to modify and refine it.”

Refining Tahoe’s economy was one of the larger themes of the summit, which was attended by several hundred people on a brilliantly bright Tahoe morning.

Reid noted that the in the almost 15 years that have transpired since he mentioned off-handedly to a reporter that he was frustrated and saddened by how Tahoe’s legendary clarity “wasn’t what it used to be,” more than $1.5 billion has been invested in protecting Lake Tahoe. Since then, Tahoe’s legendary clarity has stabilized to about 68 feet after dropping to a low of 64 feet.

“That deserves a round of applause,” Reid said, smiling. “You know, that’s your money.”

Work to continue to funding, including the Travel Promotion Act, is ongoing at the federal level, Reid said, because “simply put, protecting Lake Tahoe is the right thing to do environmentally, and it’s the right thing to do economically.”

Feinstein said she was impressed by the depth of the reports she had received from more than 50 individuals involved with improving Lake Tahoe, from fighting invasive species to water clarity issues to forest health.

“Congratulations California, congratulations Nevada … you have your act together and I am very proud of you,” she said.

Chandra said he was honored to have the opportunity to share some of his science with key decision-makers such as Reid and Feinstein.

He said University researchers work not only locally and nationally but globally as well.

“We work on a variety of different projects, from water quality issues to invasive species to climate change,” he said. “It’s the same types of issues that we try to tackle at Lake Tahoe. But often in the global level projects, we don’t have the ears of policymakers and decision-makers that can bring funding to the problem and to also guide us in our work.”

The Tahoe Summit, though, provided Chandra and his colleagues a rare and welcome opportunity to personalize the science, and their message.

“It’s very exciting to have just a few moments to discuss these very important issues with them,” he said. Then, taking off his sunglasses for a moment, Chandra surveyed the scene around him as Reid, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, passed by, warmly answering questions from stakeholders, and then, perhaps just as importantly, listening intently and sharing the Tahoe stakeholders’ concerns for the future.

“The best part of all is to see our policymakers excited about this place,” Chandra said. “To see them here enjoying the place but also recognizing its beauty in person was a most valuable experience.”

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