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Clinton Signs Bill to Help Clean Up Lake Tahoe

Environment: The $900-million plan had bipartisan support. Clarity of the lake has been in steady decline.


WASHINGTON — President Clinton signed into law Monday a bill authorizing the federal portion of a $900-million plan to clean up Lake Tahoe, an environmental initiative that drew rare bipartisan support.

The rescue effort was pushed by Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at a 1997 environmental meeting at the lake on the California-Nevada border. The bill that Clinton signed enjoyed strong Republican support as it made its way through Congress.

The measure pledges $300 million in federal spending for a variety of environmental programs over a 10-year period, including erosion control, land acquisition, traffic improvements and removal of dead trees to reduce fire risk in the Tahoe area.

California and Nevada state governments and local agencies and businesses have pledged to pick up the rest of the cost of the cleanup plan.

Urban runoff and pollution threaten to turn Lake Tahoe's famous cobalt blue waters into a murky green.

"Sadly, Lake Tahoe is in a state of environmental emergency," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a sponsor of the legislation. She hailed the bill's signing as a "landmark day for one of the environmental crown jewels of our nation."

"We're just really thrilled," added Heidi Hill Drum of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

Tahoe's clarity is declining at a rate of about 1 foot per year, scientists say. A white disc resembling a dinner plate that was visible at a depth of 105 feet in the 1960s is visible today only at 66 feet. It might be seen only at 40 feet by 2030 if current trends continue, the scientists warn.

The measure brought together environmentalists and businesses seeking to preserve a popular recreation spot that pumps more than $1 billion a year into the region's economy.

Feinstein, who visited the lake frequently as a child, said that she was shocked at the 1997 environmental summit to find gasoline floating on the water's surface. "I saw land erosion problems on a major level that were bringing all kinds of sediment into the lake." she said.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who also sponsored the legislation, called its enactment "a fulfillment of a promise that we made in 1997 to do everything in our power to save Lake Tahoe for future generations."

Federal funds authorized by the new law still must be appropriated annually by Congress. But supporters said they are confident of such action, given the bipartisan support for the cleanup effort.

In separate actions, Congress approved funneling $17 million into restoration projects benefiting the lake during the 2001 fiscal year.

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