By Darcie Goodman
Life in the Sierra brings nature’s grandeur before your eyes. The morning silhouette of pines against calm water or the shimmer of a stone at the bottom of a clear creek delivers a kind of magic. There is beauty to be found where nature and humans meet, but there is also conflict and impacts. As people, our environmental focus instinctively falls on the threats that are easy to spot, like wildfire and litter. They demand and deserve our attention. But we can’t lose sight of another risk lying just below the waterline.
Aquatic invasive species — including weeds, fish, and shellfish — threaten to choke our creeks, streams, and shorelines, and could turn the Sierra’s famously transparent waters a murky green. This isn’t a warning for the future; it’s a pressing priority today. Two species of aquatic invasive weeds, Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed, have already infested over 150 acres of man-made lagoons on Tahoe’s south shore, plus more than 100 acres of Lake Tahoe itself. To keep Tahoe blue, scientists agree that tackling aquatic invasive species is just as urgent as curbing climate change, pollution, and wildfire.
Invasive weeds have a knack for making themselves at home where they’re not welcome. They crowd out native species, alter underwater habitat, and reshape food web dynamics. This makes the lake hospitable for more damaging invaders such as fish and clams. Combined with warming waters, they also usher in hazardous algae blooms, which can make the water toxic for humans and our furry friends.
Thankfully, programs are in place to prevent new introductions. An important mantra for all boaters and paddlers is to “clean, drain, and dry” your watercraft before you get on the water.
Lake Tahoe’s boat inspection program spreads this message and requires all motorized watercraft to be screened before they launch into Big Blue. After less than a month of inspections this year, 14 contaminated boats have been detected, compared with 20 in all of 2020.
The high rate of contamination is a reminder that we all have a role to play and must become educated and vigilant. The League to Save Lake Tahoe, or Keep Tahoe Blue, offers a simple, fun and impactful way for you to help tackle the aquatic invasive species threat. We hope you’ll join us.
Eyes on the Lake is a volunteer program to identify and report sightings of aquatic invasive species. The League and our partners use data provided by “citizen scientist” volunteers to track the presence and absence of invasive species and launch a rapid response to snuff out new populations. Since its start in 2013, Eyes on the Lake has detected and helped remove seven novel infestations in Lake Tahoe. We’re very excited to expand the program into the Truckee region beginning this month, thanks to a generous grant from the Martis Fund (a collaborative project of Martis Camp’s landowners and developers, DMB/Highlands Group, Mountain Area Preservation, and Sierra Watch).
Broadening the net of invasive species watchers to Truckee is crucial. Fun-seekers regularly move between waterways in our region. Unknowingly, a boater, paddler, or angler may transport one of these intruders stowing away in their gear. But once you’re equipped with the knowledge to identify invasive species, and the free Citizen Science Tahoe App to report sightings, you can be part of the solution. Visit keeptahoeblue.org/eyes to watch a short training video and download the app and get started today.
Throughout the summer, the League will also offer virtual trainings to deepen your knowledge, along with opportunities to survey lakes and streams at risk for infestation. We can’t wait for you to join us. See our schedule at keeptahoeblue.org/events.
Together, we can protect our waters from aquatic invasive species and Keep Tahoe Blue.
~ Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD is CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known as Keep Tahoe Blue.