INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — This Memorial Day weekend is the last time most Jet Ski enthusiasts will be able to tear across Lake Tahoe. Effective Tuesday, most personal watercraft will be banned because of concerns about water pollution.
"The lake belongs to the people. But when the health of the lake is at stake, we must balance personal recreation with ensuring the preservation of Lake Tahoe's beauty for generations to come," said Jim Baetge, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which worked for more than two years to impose the ban.
Some personal watercraft have been adapted and will still be allowed on the lake, but the rules at Tahoe and elsewhere, along with tough air pollution standards across California, are already having an effect.
Stung by a sharp drop in sales, Mercury Marine, a major boat maker, is offering a money-back "Technology Guarantee" that certain of its engines meet California's tough new air standards.
The move comes in response to new air quality rules in California aimed at sharply cutting pollutants from new two-stroke and four-stroke marine engines, including outboards.
"Our dealers are feeling the pinch," Mercury Marine spokesman Phil Esposito said from corporate headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wis.
The state rules apply to engines used in many motorboats, Jet Skis, small, lightweight jet boats and small fishing boats. Inboard engines are exempt from the regulations.
Mercury's new guarantee applies to the low-emission four-stroke and the direct-injection two-stroke outboard engines.
The new state rules, which are far more stringent than federal anti-pollution standards, take effect first with engines built in 2001. The rules will be tightened in stages through 2008, when engines should be 90% less polluting than they are today, according to the state Air Resources Board.
In addition to concern about air pollution, California and Nevada officials on both sides of Lake Tahoe blame personal watercraft for dumping fuel and oil, contributing to Tahoe's alarming loss of clarity over the last three decades.
Visibility in the lake once reached down 160 feet, the clearest waters in the world before logging and mining that followed the Comstock Lode in the 1860s.
Scientists say visibility now stands at about 60 feet, and it's getting worse.