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Ensign promises bill to restore Lake Tahoe water quality

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., plans to introduce legislation guaranteeing federal funding to restore crystal waters at Lake Tahoe, an aide said.

Frustrated by annual budget shortfalls, Nevada and California lawmakers have been searching for permanent funding for Lake Tahoe improvements.

“Now we’ve come up with a plan that can guarantee it,” Ensign said in a Thursday statement that did not provide details.

Ensign spokesman Jack Finn said the plan will be unveiled Monday at a Lake Tahoe Basin Restoration Forum expected to draw Gov. Kenny Guinn, federal lawmakers, local officials and Rebecca Watson, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals.

“It’s something out of the ordinary,” Finn said. “This is a more creative legislative method to guarantee funding.” Ensign was vacationing and not available for comment, he said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will co-sponsor the bill, an aide said.

Lake Tahoe “is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, but also one of the most fragile,” Reid said in a statement.

In 2000, Congress authorized spending $300 million over 10 years to restore the once crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe that have been dulled by erosion and runoff.

Nevada and California officials have expressed frustration with the Bush administration, which they say has not proposed full funding for the effort.

“We have been disappointed in the past because the administration hasn’t provided in the budget the level of funding needed,” said Howard Gantman, spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Local governments working with Tahoe-area federal agencies said it would be easier to make improvements if Congress could guarantee steady funding.

“When you have a national treasure it takes more than local dollars to maintain and improve the lake,” said South Lake Tahoe city manager David Jenkins. “We need federal assistance.”

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency estimates it could cost $1.5 billion to clean up the lake’s murky waters, buy environmentally sensitive land, control erosion and manage the surrounding forest.

Congress has allocated $64 million in the past four years, about half the amount authorized by the 2000 law. This year, a Senate panel approved $14.65 million, short of the annual $30 million goal.