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Mountain News — hard times on the Colorado River

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Tahoe clarity returning

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The famed clarity of Lake Tahoe that provoked the admiration of a young Mark Twain in Roughing It, the book recounting his youthful adventures, has been returning.

In the late 1960s, a white disk the size of a dinner plate could be seen to a depth of 31 metres. But, by 1997, when former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore met at the lake with various senators and other leaders, the clarity had declined to 19.5 metres. Now, the lake's clarity has increased by 3.4 metres.

What's responsible? So far, $1.7 billion has been spent. Some of the measures have included sweeping roads, virtually vacuuming them, to keep sediment from sullying the pristine waters.

Gore, returning to a summit at Incline Village, Nev., located on the north shores of the giant lake, commended the progress — but also pointed to future problems. Already scientists have documented warming temperatures in Lake Tahoe, more rapid snowmelt during spring, and a greater conversion of snow to rain.

"A single degree in temperature, he said, "is the difference between rain and snow."

The Tahoe Daily Tribune, which covered the event, said that Gore pointed to the cooperation that has resulted in progress at Lake Tahoe as being a model for taking action in dealing with the greenhouse effect.

But the Daily Tribune also reports deep disagreements about the progress. A coalition that includes the Sierra Club, Friends of Tahoe Vista and other conservation groups disagree with what would be permitted under the plan adopted last December by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The plan, said a member of the Friends of the Western Shore, "will bring radical change to Tahoe's look and feel, with new tall buildings, intense urban development, and increased traffic and congestion around the lake."