Opinion: Washoe Meadows advocates making progress

By Nancy Graalman

A growing coalition of statewide and Lake Tahoe preservation interests, intensifying voices from environmental scientists and economists, and – significantly – a recent court ruling are merging to heighten skepticism over the position of California’s State Parks Department that the only way to mend the Upper Truckee River is to downgrade South Lake Tahoe’s Washoe Meadows State Park in order to expand the Lake Tahoe Golf Course and embark on a massive mechanical transformation of the river’s course.

It is becoming apparent that the dysfunction within State Parks during the past decade of the restoration project’s conception and promotion calls into question the validity of the process and the promised outcomes. The state Legislature’s emergency intervention within the Parks Department in the summer of 2012; the appointment of a new director; the August 2012 passage of AB1478 and its impact on parks administration; changes in thePark Commission composition; and, the recent introduction of the independent Parks Forward Commission point toward many years of ill-conceived and unrestrained ventures.

Washoe Meadows State Park on the South Shore. Photo/LTN file

Washoe Meadows State Park on the South Shore. Photo/LTN file

This disorder was recognized by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo last month when he ruled that State Parks and the Park Commission failed to act with accountability and transparency and failed to comply with California’s CEQA laws when the Commission approved the Upper Truckee Restoration Project and Golf Course Reconfiguration Project in October 2011. He found that the Washoe Meadows Community’s November 2011 lawsuit charging substantive mitigation and EIR deficiencies by Parks undoubtedly caused the department’s quick procedural backtrack and the Commission’s January 2012 re-vote on the project. Judge Grillo declared that even a single point in the suit was a “significant issue,” and awarded Washoe Meadows Community a portion of the legal fees for proving State Parks’ violations.

According to Lynne Paulson, leader of the Washoe Meadows Community, “Our second suit is now proceeding to seek full accountability for the EIR’s deficiencies and the horrible precedent set by Parks’ decision to downgrade Washoe Meadows State Park. Such a move to strip a state park of its protected status renders all California parks vulnerable if the land becomes attractive for development or for-profit reasons.”

The nearly 700-acre park – which includes forest woodlands, meadows and world-renowned, rare boglike wetlands called Fens — was purchased by the state in 1984 at a taxpayer cost of more than $11 million in today’s dollars. Its natural resources were guaranteed protection by state statue with added defense through its designation as a state park.

The Washoe Meadows Community leads the campaign to promote an alternative to parks’ plan to expand the golf course east of the Upper Truckee into the heart of Washoe Meadows, but groups such as the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, and its prominent chair Bob Anderson, are also sounding the alarm over the project’s ecological and administrative miscalculations.

In addition, internationally respected scientists in diverse fields voice concerns that the State is ignoring warnings that the vast excavation and earth-moving project (some 300,000 cubic feet of dirt would be required to sculpt new golf holes along the river) and the subsequent course maintenance demands could result in unintended, permanent consequences for Lake Tahoe clarity, the spawning streams and fisheries, and Washoe Meadows’ historic Fens.

The EIR accepted by the state even predicts — but dismisses as “temporary” — 15 to 20 years of increased sediment in the river flow due to construction impact.

The eminent scientist Charles Goldman, emeritus professor at UC Davis, said, “I was one of the scientists in the 1972 TRPA meetings reviewing a development proposal in what is now Washoe Meadows State Park, and I was dismayed then to learn that a golf course was proposed for this sensitive riparian area. Fortunately, reason and outrage at the proposal won the day. Water quality is particularly threatened by a golf course not only because of fertilizers and other chemicals but also because of the necessity for irrigation. I urge today’s agencies to only approve an alternative that protects rather than harms the health of the lake and not approve an alternative which has the potential for so many negative impacts.”

Of the imposition of a golf course into Washoe Meadows, wetlands authority Robert Qualls of the University of Nevada, Reno said, “There will always be risks associated with the application of fertilizer in areas with a high water table such as exists to support the fens, and there is a risk of flushing of nutrients during floods. There would also the loss of the nutrient uptake by the more than 1,600 trees that would be removed for the course. The cumulative effect of numerous piecemeal changes can result in a major impairment of water resources and interfere with the productivity and water quality of aquatic ecosystems.”

State Parks has relied on outdated economic and recreational models that favor for-profit concessionaires in its assertion that only a “traditional” golf course replacement will provide sustained revenue for parks, its Lake Valley Recreation Area, and the surrounding South Lake Tahoe region. Conversely, Washoe Meadows Community and its allies – highlighted by the leadership of El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago – have advanced innovative alternatives developed by independent specialists that reflect contemporary conservation practices and future financial and social trends.

The coalition’s intent remains to work with State Parks to restore the Upper Truckee, preserve Washoe Meadows as defined by statute, and propel South Lake Tahoe’s future as a sport and recreation destination for all Californians.

Nancy Graalman is director of Defense of Place.

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Comments (21)
  1. SLTresident says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    The golf course does nothing bt good for this town. They are continually winning awards for their environmental stewardship. The people of Washoe meadows community, could care less about anything but preserving their private state park that backs up to their backyard. The states plan to provide better access to the park is widely overlooked. As of right now this is not a park, because there is no access to it. The loss of jobs, and revenue that would occur if the golf course is reduced would cripple the economy in this town more than one can imagine.

  2. LCPaulson says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    Studies by economists show that there are better options for a wider ranging use of both Washoe Meadows State Park and the golf course that would provide all season recreation and more income. The Washoe Meadows Community has conducted numerous hikes, snowshoe walks, and tours of the park in order to show more people where the park is. Sadly, State Parks has put up no signs or trail markers for the park and has not been the best steward of the park.

  3. John A says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    There’s the saying “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it”.
    I walked the proposed original project with a State Parks Rep. and group of concerned others.
    My impression is the State Park has some money burning a hole in their pocket and an environmental engineering dept to justify employment for.
    From what I’ve investigated – no solid long term monitoring has been produced to justify a riparian wetland restoration of this magnitude.
    It’s true that our state and federal government agencies are in bed with for-profit corporations for self-sustenance. Just look at TRPA for example.
    Save the state’s tax payer’s money – scrap these bogus projects and downsize these government agencies.

    This project can be accomplished by simply enhancing and widening the riparian wetland within the existing golf course and repairing the few bank errosion issues that exist. Done deal – millions in savings, not to mention saving potential further Lake Tahoe damage by disturbing hunderds of thousands of tons of soil.

  4. hikerchick says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    Nancy Graalman points out serious concerns about State Parks plan to downgrade park land, cut down almost 2000 trees and endanger one of the most biologically diverse fens in the world to construct part of a golf course. The plan is an environmental and financial disaster in the making.

    Other actions by State Parks make this plan even more questionable. We have been reading regularly about Parks illegal practice of allowing employees to trade leave time for cash which has apparently continued despite intense media and regulatory scrutiny. But worse–and I quote here from a Sac Bee article posted this month on LTN—“Expenditure tracking also is so poor that four of the five districts had their own systems for watching their expenses. That has created duplicate work in some instances and THE DEPARTMENT STILL DOES NOT KNOW HOW MUCH IT COSTS TO OPERATE EACH PARK. (caps mine). Now, in the big push to convince the public that the golf course plan is a good one, Parks has repeatedly told us that the golf course is a major contributor, if not the biggest contributor,to the budget. It has been impossible to determine exactly what kind of contribution the golf course makes to the overall budget (this information should be both clear and public) and questions have been raised about whether or not it produces as much revenue as claimed. Financial monkey business and the budgeting disarray makes these claims even more questionable than they were before the financial irregularities were discovered. Further, any contributions to the budget be they large or small, would be diminished because the golf concessionaire would initially pay for the construction and then charge the taxpayer for it in the form of higher golf fees and diminished return to the State. Golf is declining by 3% a year.

    As John A points out, disturbing thousands of tons of earth would create such a huge impact that all the stream restoration in the world may never create a net gain in the end. I believe the TMDL scientists have discovered that only about 7% of clarity loss is due to all of the inflow to the lake. The Upper Truckee River contributes only 1 or 2% percent of that total. Do the math.

    And despite statements to the contrary, Washoe Meadows is regularly and sometimes heavily used–especially on weekends– by mountain bikers, hikers, snowshoers, dog walkers, equestrians and cross-country skiers.

  5. Lisa says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    This was a plan to downgrade a state park, hand over money and get nothing in return for at least a decade. It would allow an out of state private development company to line their own pockets at taxpayer expense. Clean up and restore the river and leave the golf course where it is.

  6. Arod says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    The golf course would remain the same, no reduction. I walk out there everyday and there are plenty of people that use this area. Its no secret. Get a clue SLT res.

  7. Kane says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    This John A fellow should be running the environmental program. Its time for some accountability.

  8. Lisa says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    SLT, No one is against the golf course staying where it is. There are plenty of entrances to the park and we wish the State Park system would put up a few signs somewhere, heck anywhere, directing people to the park. They had enough money to build a huge new sign for the golf course (which already had a sign), but not a dime to direct people to the park itself. It is a gem that makes natural beauty accessible even to those not in great shape. I don’t know if you are uninformed of the plan, but the footprint of the course will not change. What the course out-of-state developers wants to do is greatly expand into the meadow. I can’t see how any jobs would be lost by keeping things the way they are. Any job loss is the result of the fact that the number of golfers is lessening nationwide (and has been for years)

  9. worldcycle says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    I have been riding my bike and hiking through the park for years before I discovered that it was a State Park from seeing it on the State Parks web page. Washoe Meadows? Isn’t that down by Carson City? That question led me to discover I have been using the park all along. There is very little access and that is only from a few neighborhoods and if you know of the dirt trail leading from the cul-de-sac. The Truckee could use some “restoration” after years of diverting it to suit the needs of the former ranchers, but is it worth it? Some would say yes to improve filtration and lake clarity. Do we really need a bigger golf course? Already we have 2 there. One across the street from the other. Then the course downtown behind Safeway and the Edgewood. Isn’t that enough. How about another disc golf course. No water, no fertilizers needed. Perhaps another campground or utilizing the old barn there and having an interpretive center which shows Tahoe life other than the rich and famous Baldwins. After all, a pony express station was right across the street. Indians used to grind their grain in the Cold Creek meadow right behind Ross / Rite Aid. Mark Twain, Hank Monk, Hawley Grade, lots of history here that is slowly becoming forgotten. Keep the land for the masses rather than the gentrified privileged few. (Can’t wait to for the “socialism” comment after that statement) But isn’t that really what park lands are supposed to be about?

  10. cosa pescado says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    “From what I’ve investigated – no solid long term monitoring has been produced to justify a riparian wetland restoration of this magnitude.”

    How hard did you investigate?
    Did you read enough to know what the RCC is?

  11. dipper says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    The State Parks have a project website:
    It has a ton of information about the project and its goals and objectives.
    It still apparent how misinformed people are. From what I have seen and heard there is no expansion of the golf course, actually it reduces the size of the course. The developing of the upland areas will then allow the riparian areas to be restored. This is not all about water quality,its about ecosystem function, habitat, and improved recreation and access along the river. You can’t accomplish those things by leaving the golf course where it is. Its not practical to leave the course where it is and restore or improve the riparian area and fix a few spots along the bank. That would be a nightmare for the course which would flood hopefully multiple times every year, and do nothing for habitat or river access. That course has thousands of rounds of golf played on it each year, its the high school’s golf team’s home course, its the only affordable 18 hole regulation course on this side of the basin. Maybe the high school could move over to Edgewood?
    Its sad to see how selfish people are who have this backyard park and can’t look at the broader picture.
    Maybe State Parks will put a sign next your house and people can park along the street in front of your yard and access the park.

  12. Rick says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    I might also offer this paper by the world renown geomorphologist Dr. Matt Kondolf (professor UC Berkeley). As he points out in this article, many restoration projects while well intentioned, are often based on faulty and unvalidated principles. A worthy read.


  13. Fritz says - Posted: September 23, 2013

    What on earth is going on by the airport? Is this the same thing state parks is attempting? The river they are building over there looks so unnatural.

  14. SLTresident says - Posted: September 24, 2013

    Thanks Dipper, you were able to put into words what I was unable to do. My point on loss of jobs and revenue was if the course was reduced to less than 18 holes. The plan they have in place is great for everyone if they read the facts. The fen that is talked about is higher in elevation than the proposed site for the relocated holes, and would be left undisturbed.

  15. John A says - Posted: September 24, 2013

    The state owns the acreage across the highway …. why not push the displaced course holes ovver there rather than disturb the beautiful park land uphill above it ?
    Again, I believe the whole push for the project is State Parks with money to burn, and partnership with corporate business. The trade-off for ruining the beautiful undisturbed land above it isn’t worth the future revenue they might derive. That land once developed is gone forever.
    Shelf the project – downsize State Parks departments, save us all a bunch of taxpayer money.

  16. Smells BS says - Posted: September 24, 2013

    I live near Washoe Meadows State Park and you don’t speak for me. Shame on the so called “Washoe Meadows Community” for trying to protect your personal dog-walk park at the cost of our community.

  17. hikerchick says - Posted: September 25, 2013

    There is no personal dog walk park. Everyone from toddlers to seniors use the trails and swim in the river. Go see for yourself. The proposed golf course plan would bisect the park and make it difficult for walkers, mountain bikers, runners and equestrians to use the park from north to south. A lot of golfers are against this plan too. They like the course as it is and think the truly needed river restoration can be done with a much smaller project. Only golfers are welcome on a golf course as anyone who has tried to ride a bike through one knows. The greater community is best served by preserving the existing park for hikers, bikers and other everyday users. The stated reason for moving 5 holes of the golf course is to restore the river but there is much debate about whether this will have any beneficial effect on lake clarity. See comments above.

  18. John A says - Posted: September 25, 2013

    Shame on those who can’t think for themselves and recognize another government agency boondoggle. One doesn’t need to live next to this property to see that. The true cost to the community is a self directed state agency in business with a for- profit corporation making decisions and spending millions on behalf of themselves.

  19. SLTresident says - Posted: September 25, 2013

    The land where the proposed holes will be located is far from undisturbed. Look up the history as to what it has been used for over the last 100 years. Its been used as a quarry, logging operations, etc.. And as far as a lot of people using it is crazy. I could walk out there right now and there will be less than 3 people there. The Golf Course attracts 30,000+ people while its open, many of whom are Meyers locals.

  20. Orale says - Posted: September 25, 2013

    They are working on the downstream parts of the river. Won’t that improve Lake clarity? Is this project really that necessary?
    Can someone help me answer these questions?