Questions swirl around Donner’s water quality |

Questions swirl around Donner’s water quality

TRUCKEE — It’s just a fact of life up here; Donner Lake plays second fiddle to Lake Tahoe.

“At the watershed council, we like to say Donner Lake is in the glory shadow of Lake Tahoe,” said Lisa Wallace, executive director of the Truckee River Watershed Council. “If it was farther away from Tahoe, I think it would be really famous.”

But it isn’t just in the throngs of visitors to the region where Donner Lake gets less attention: It’s also in the scientific scrutiny the body of water receives for clarity and quality.

Lake Tahoe has its own clarity standards, goals, and even its own governing entity, but Donner Lake doesn’t have its own standards or objectives.

Instead it is lumped into Truckee River watershed standards from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Lauri Kemper, supervising engineer with the board.

In fact, Kemper said, Lahontan has no monitoring on Donner Lake – that’s in comparison to the collaborative work on Lake Tahoe by the Lahontan water board, UC Davis, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“Lake Tahoe gets more attention because it is federally designated an Outstanding National Water Resource for its extraordinary clarity, purity, and unique situation,” Kemper said. “But Donner is an important part of the watershed. …

“I am just concerned with the water quality,” said Tweedie said, a 25-year Donner-area resident who has collected bags of litter from the lake. “When I dive in the water, the distance I can see is less each year.”

Although fees are being collected and money spent attempting to catch sediment before it reaches Donner Lake, no baseline water quality data exists to measure improvements, Tweedie said.

Many efforts to keep the lake clean focus on trash collection, but Wallace questioned whether trash is the biggest problem.

“Between stormwater runoff, erosion, and trash, if we were to rank these things, would we focus on litter first? We would want to start at the highest impacts,” Wallace said.

The watershed council, along with the U.S. Forest Service and the Truckee Donner Land Trust, plan to restore Negro Canyon, which Wallace said is feeding tons of sediment into Donner Lake through Gregory Creek.

Sand from Interstate 80 flows along Summit and Frog creeks into the lake, too, she said.

Wallace said Caltrans’ project on I-80 includes the most extensive stormwater runoff controls for the stretch of freeway since it was built, designed to catch the sand and salt washing off the road.

A partnership of the town and affected agencies is needed to make more progress, she said.

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