Rains reduce Tahoe's clarity, monitoring help needed

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KOLO) -- A high-elevation rain event like the one we experienced this week adds a lot of water to Lake Tahoe. That's good for lake levels, but bad for lake clarity.

"That is really the pollution we are most concerned about in Tahoe," said Jesse Patterson, Deputy Director of Keep Tahoe Blue (The League to Save Lake Tahoe).

Patterson says run-off is the lake's biggest source of fine sediments and the biggest source of reduction in lake clarity.

"(Fine sediments) stay suspended in the water and they make it so you can't see down as far," said Patterson.

The first step in preventing those particles from getting in the lake is knowing where they are coming from. To learn that, Keep Tahoe Blue uses volunteer 'pipe keepers.'

"We try to get out as soon as a storm has started," said Chris Disney, a pipe keeper. "We are checking the turbidity to see how dirty the water is coming in through this pipe that is going to be going in to Lake Tahoe."

Every time there is a storm, pipe keepers collect four samples of water from their adopted pipe. At Keep Tahoe Blue headquarters those samples are analyzed for clarity.

"It is definitely a contrast from the rest of the lake," said Savannah Rudruff, who tests the samples.

Rudruff notes the turbidity of the water and graphs it. Over time she can identify problem pipes and notify their owners.

"Different jurisdictions can take action on those pipes to implement solutions such as infiltration basins, filter boxes, etc," said Rudruff.

The program has huge potential, but there's one problem: there are only 20 pipe keepers for the 200 pipes scattered around the lake.

"We need more and more people to come out here because it just gives us more information to make better decisions," said Patterson.

If you are interested in becoming a pipe keeper there are two upcoming training sessions. The first training is on Sunday, February 12th from 2pm to 4pm at Keep Tahoe Blue headquarters. The second training is on March 7th from 4pm to 6pm at the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association Pavilion.