Tahoe Watercraft Inspection Program Balances Service and Reduced Funding

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV— The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Governing Board yesterday approved a fee update for the watercraft inspection program to help sustain boater services this summer, TRPA said today.

The board’s approval of a $10 fee increase for boat decontaminations is one of the changes to the watercraft inspection program recommended by the multi-agency Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Coordinating Committee following a reduction in the federal funding that has helped support the program since it began in 2009. The committee also recommended changes to inspection station hours, the closure of one inspection station, and a reduction in the amount of funding available to marinas.

In 2013, the program—jointly managed by TRPA and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (Tahoe RCD)—inspected and certified over 14,000 motorized watercraft that were free of invasive species before launching into Lake Tahoe. An introduction of non-native species could devastate Lake Tahoe’s fragile ecosystem and native fisheries, impact boats and recreation areas, and could cost the Tahoe Basin about $20 million annually, according to studies.

Tommy Penich, Rob Bortolameolli, Sarah Underhill

Get on the water faster by arriving at any Tahoe inspection station Clean, Drained & Dry.

Following the approval Thursday, the decontamination fee will increase from $25 to $35 dollars only charged to boaters who don’t arrive at the inspection station Clean, Drained and Dry. All other fees will remain the same. There has not been a significant fee increase since 2011, however, TRPA said the program is adapted every year to better serve the needs of most boaters while managing diminishing public funds.

“This program is one of the most comprehensive in the nation and is looked to as a model because of the strong partnerships that formed out of urgent action,” TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said. “Increasing efficiency in the program is equally important to keeping fees low and we hope to continue the successful approach.”

To partially cover the funding gap, the following recommendations from the AIS Coordinating Committee will be applied this season:

  • A $10 increase to decontamination fees, all other fees stay the same.
  • Closure of the Homewood inspection station, which conducted 8 percent of inspections last year.
  • A 15 percent reduction in funding to marinas for their assistance installing and checking inspection seals.

Additionally, the Committee this spring will consider changing the hours of operation at Meyers, Spooner and Alpine Meadows inspection stations to close at 5:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.  Similar to the Homewood inspection station, 8 percent of 2013 boat inspections took place after 5:30 p.m.

The watercraft inspection program takes around $1.5 million per year to run and last year approximately 50 percent was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act funds. That amount will be reduced by more than $100,000 this year and the changes to the program aim to cover that shortfall. Nicole Cartwright, AIS Program Coordinator for Tahoe RCD, said they are constantly evaluating the program for a balance between level of service, convenience and risk of introduction.

“Closing the Homewood inspection station this boating season will provide the greatest cost saving with the lowest impact to boater convenience,” Cartwright said. “Boaters still have access to four other inspection stations on the way to the Lake.”

Cartwright said most boaters can avoid the need for decontamination and save money by arriving at the inspection station not just cleaned and drained, but also dry. Wet boats need to be decontaminated because the larvae of invasive species can survive as long as there is moisture. Out of 6,800 motorized boats that received a new inspection last year, 4,000 had to be decontaminated.

For more information on the Lake Tahoe Watercraft Inspection Program, visit tahoeboatinspections.com.

The Watercraft Inspection Program is part of the Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program which is implemented by 40 public and private partner organizations including federal, state and local jurisdictions, research partners, public utility districts, and private marinas. The state, federal and local agencies comprising the Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinating Committee have provided leadership, direction and resources to fulfill this program’s mission of prevention, detection and control of aquatic invasive species in the Lake Tahoe Region. For additional information, call Jeff Cowen at (775) 589-5278 or email him at jcowen@trpa.org.

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