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Success Stories - Lake Tahoe Soil Survey

California Conservation Showcase

May 2010

Lake Tahoe Soil Survey

Lake Tahoe, once clear and pristine, is currently losing its clarity at a rate of approximately one foot per year.

Lake Tahoe is losing its world famous clarity because of sediment and phosphorus runoff from urban areas.
Lake Tahoe is losing its world famous clarity because of sediment and phosphorus runoff from urban areas.

Lake Tahoe, considered to be one of the most beautiful Lakes in the United States, is having some beauty issues. Over the years, population growth and development on this erosion-prone landscape have caused runoff, in the form of fine sediment and un-wanted nutrients, into the lake. The once clear and pristine Lake Tahoe is currently losing its clarity at a rate of approximately one foot per year.

In an attempt to clear up the problem and stem the degradation, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency passed an ordinance in 1992 requiring all property owners to collect storm water originating on their property.

This requirement meant that approximately 30,000 single-family residential properties would need to be retro fitted with Best Management Practices (BMPs). The BMPs include infiltration structures and treating the land for erosion control.

For several years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), in partnership with the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District, have been providing conservation assistance to property owners. This approach has resulted in assistance to approximately 1,500 properties annually and approximately 600 completed projects per field season.

With 19,000 single-family residences still in need of help, NRCS is contributing its expertise to a multidisciplinary team of conservationists and engineers. As an expert in the field of soils and soil survey mapping, NRCS Soil Scientist Woody Loftis was able to utilize the recently published edition of The Soil Survey of Tahoe Basin Area, California and Nevada.

Molly Pulsifer of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District measures impervious areas to develop a BMP retrofit plan to assist Lake Tahoe homeowners.
Molly Pulsifer of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District measures impervious areas to develop a BMP retrofit plan to assist Lake Tahoe homeowners.

This document, rich in soils information, has proven to be an extremely valuable tool to the team’s planning efforts. By using the very extensive and detailed soil survey data, the team established an evaluation process that envisioned a triage approach to parcel analysis.

This analysis provided a breakdown of soil limitations, which guided project managers in determining how to allocate their limited staffing resources more effectively. The final result was an area-wide approach to applying technical assistance.

The soil survey data, in correlation with Geographic Information System (GIS), showed problem areas and areas of opportunity, which enabled NRCS and partners to focus their efforts on appropriate sites.

This ultimately increased the number of BMP retrofit plans that could be done in a year. It also minimized collateral damage to the environment as a result of wholesale excavations for infiltration systems in marginal locations.

NRCS has not only increased its efficiency by empowering a significant percentage of homeowners to accomplish the task with minimal staff effort but has also improved the services to landowners.

Furthermore, those that are situated on sites with severe soil limitations are given a temporary reprieve until new technology or regional storm water treatment resources become available.

-NRCS-

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