Health of Squaw Creek topic of study

Seth Lightcap/Sierra Sun

Seth Lightcap/Sierra Sun

Money paid by Squaw Valley Ski Corporation 18 years ago is coming back to help restore a creek in need of help.

For the second time in three months, the Friends of Squaw Creek - a quasi-formal environmental group - has received thousands of dollars in grant money to fund studies to assess how to make Squaw Creek a healthier body of water.

Last week the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board approved a $20,000 grant for the organization. Since the stream group lacks the official status needed to manage the grant, the Truckee River Watershed Council will assume financial responsibility for the award.

Back in December, the group was awarded almost $50,000 from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

The newest grant comes from a $115,000 fund set aside by the California Attorney General from litigation brought against Squaw Valley Ski Corporation in 1991, according to water board Supervising Engineer Chuck Curtis.

The litigation was over a diesel fuel spill near the base of the Red Dog ski lift reported to the water board on March 5, 1990, Curtis said.

In 1995, state lawyers entered a judgment for $100,000, plus interest, creating the Red Dog Diesel Spill Mitigation Fund for Squaw Creek Restoration Planning, he said.

The funds were designated for uses within the Truckee River Watershed that are approved by the Lahontan Water Board, according to language in the staff resolution recommending the grant money.

Only one other award from the Red Dog fund was given five years ago, said Curtis - a grant to the Sierra Business Council of $25,000.

Some of the thousand-plus gallons of fuel did make it into the creek, Curtis said, although there was never evidence found of a mass fish or plant kill as a result.

The Truckee River Watershed Council supported the grant because of the full circle the money has made.

"One of the things that the watershed council supports is when fine money is collected, it is used for to improve stream, creek or water quality conditions close to the incident of the fineable offense," Watershed Council Executive Director Lisa Wallace said.

She said many times environmental mitigation flows back to the state capital and is not spent in the community where it was won.

Officials at the Squaw Valley Ski Corporation are happy to see the money return for environmental pursuits within the Olympic Valley.

"I applaud the regional water board for being open to sharing funds with the Friends of Squaw Creek," said Tom Murphy vice president of Squaw Valley Ski Corporation. "We care about the creek and the environment and so do our guests."

Squaw Valley resident Carl Gustafson, a member of the Friends of Squaw Creek, said the creek is probably one of the most studied bodies of water in the state, and need not be examined more.

He expressed interest in using the money for more action-orientated restoration efforts - like planting willows along the banks. But the Lahontan resolution clearly states the money must be used for further studies.

The studies "will deal specifically toward the end result of creek restoration," Wallace said, explaining that many in the past have "rightly" focused on water availability.


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