Opinion: Preserve Washoe Meadows State Park


By Charles Goldman

California’s state parks face an uncertain future if the Parks Forward Commission, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature focus primarily on the financial, infrastructure and management woes of lands held in the public trust. Instead, they should equally resolve to protect the natural resources that are the essence and the foundation of our parks system. As well, the Parks Department could – and should – lead initiatives to address climate change, water conservation and renewable energy sources.

Early commission statements and persistent Parks Department actions do not demonstrate the will or intent to tackle these challenges.

Charles Goldman

Charles Goldman

A particular example of State Parks’ obstinacy – dating from the previous scandal-plagued administration – is a Tahoe project that contravenes legislatively enacted parkland protection, betrays natural resource preservation and snubs the problems of climate change. The case in point is the proposal to expand up to nine holes of a golf course into Washoe Meadows State Park near South Lake Tahoe. This incursion is possible only because of an unprecedented move – pushed by the Parks Department for 2011 Parks Commission approval – to downgrade Washoe Meadows’ state park status.

I was among the scientists in 1972 who opposed development to this sensitive riparian area along the Upper Truckee River. Lawsuits ensued until 1984, when the state purchased the land and assigned some 600 acres to State Parks to protect the “rare and irreplaceable natural resources” of what became Washoe Meadows State Park. But State Parks has now betrayed that protection with its golf course proposal, presented under the guise of river restoration and Lake Tahoe clarity.

My 1972 opinion is substantially unchanged, and all aspects of my original testimony still apply: This parkland must be protected for its significant environmental values and its link to all of the Tahoe basin.

It is extremely important to minimize fertilizer use in the Tahoe basin, especially where irrigation is involved. The proposed project imperils lake clarity due to the serious potential of fertilizer input from the golf course. Our 1972 concerns included the park’s high water table, since added irrigation water increases the risk of surfeit nutrient percolation into the groundwater and then into the river. Despite contemporary golf course maintenance promises, the threats remain of surface and subsurface transport of fertilizer nutrients to the lake’s largest tributary.

Adding to the problem, the topography of the proposed golf course, with greens in the uphill forest as well as in the floodplain and stream environmental zone, provides a system in which the normal hydrological force of gravity will press fertilizers toward the river and then to the lake.

Since my 1972 comments, Lake Tahoe has changed from a nitrogen-limited system to a highly phosphorus-limited system. While phosphorus is now the nutrient limiting factor, both elements are detrimental to the lake since they are the driving force for algal growth that accelerates the decline in water quality and contributes to deep water oxygen depletion.

Sediment is a major concern since it reduces transparency. Because the proposed golf course construction requires an extreme amount of soil disturbance, State Parks’ environmental report noted a risk of increased sedimentation reaching the lake for up to seven years.

My colleague Jerry Qualls at UNR expresses alarm about the course’s impact on Washoe Meadows’ world-renowned fens – expansive peat-forming wetlands some 10,000 years old – that depend on mineral-rich groundwater. He and I concur that State Parks lacks detailed mapping and awareness of the park’s underground hydrology. Extensive construction, excavation and expected irrigation demands could destroy the fragile wetlands that enhance air and water quality throughout the basin.

As a limnologist and president of the World Water and Climate Network, I lecture on climate change’s effects on global lakes and rivers. The proposed golf course represents a poor climate-change-related choice for many reasons: the use of irrigation water while precipitation declines; the potential increase in river water temperature as irrigation water is taken from the river; and the removal of carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees.

The planned cutting of some 1,600 trees in Washoe Meadows negates State Parks’ lauded 2010 reforestation project at San Diego County’s Cuyamaca Rancho State Park that sequestered the equivalent of more than 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The state’s environmental report in support of the golf course equivocates on the climate change issue, saying that the project’s cumulative effects are “too speculative for a meaningful significant conclusion.” This approach trivializes the issue, and further study is warranted.

Climate change can never again be ignored in any serious environmental document. State Parks should now address the already obvious need to adapt any and all projects to climate change. It should be addressed through analysis that meets rigorous scientific standards rather than political or fiscal expediency.

State Parks and the park commission should reconsider the project that would decimate the heart of Washoe Meadows and affect the Tahoe basin. They must expand their overall vision for California’s state parks. The need to adapt to climate change, to address water supply and quality issues and to initiate renewable energy projects must become central to their stewardship of our publicly held natural resources.

Charles Goldman is a retired professor from the UC Davis department of environmental science and policy.  Goldman is the president of the World Water and Climate Foundation.


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Comments (18)
  1. Not Born on the Bayou says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Not to mention the fact that I came across an article this weekend stating that golf participation has declined about 25% nationally, and that with the newer generation struggling with school debt, etc, the likelihood of spending on golf is decreasing going forward.

    I prefer frisbee golf anyway, a better workout, low cost, and lots of great courses in the Tahoe area.

  2. Not Born on the Bayou says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Correction, the article on this site said there was a 20% decline in golf spending over the past quarter at a specific vendor (just re-read it). Have read about a general decline nationally too so I mixed up my recollection, but I pulled the wrong number and reference out of memory in my previous post on this topic. Happens with aging, heh.

  3. Melvin831 says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Why is it that every opinion piece on the golf course project contains the same talking points? Perhaps its a slow news day or perhaps a small group of people are desperately trying to control the message about the project. I, for one, can’t wait for the project to be built. I look forward to access to more river within walking distance from my house. Who cares if golf is on the decline; the current course is falling INTO the river so removing it is a win in my book.

  4. reloman says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Am I missing something here, for people who are unaware Mr Goldman is implying that an additional 9 holes are being built, but it is my understanding that they are being relocated so that the river can have a more natural flow. Since they are not adding any more holes i would assume that they would be using the same amount of fertilizer that may (as always) get into the river as well as the ground water.

  5. LTGC Superintendent says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    As a full time year round employee and steward to the land of Lake Tahoe Golf Course, I would like to correct all of the mis-information in this article.

    First off, while golf may be declining nationally, its not at LTGC, our rounds played and revenue have increased every year since I’ve been here(2012). While some may believe the plan is to expand the golf course, the plan is actually to reduce the overall sq footage while relocating 5 holes to accomodate the restoration of the Upper Truckee River.

    If this transformation happens, a state of the art irrigation system will come with it, which would reduce water use atleast 30%.

    Another misconception is we are polluting the ground water and the river. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I do groudwater tests at 3 sites of the golf course 3 times per year. These are sent to a Lab in Reno. Our 1st well is directly adjacent to Country Club Dr. This well is the dirtiest as it collects all the urban run off from the neighborhood. The other 2 sites, one directly in the middle of the course, and the 3rd exiting the course reveal that our golf course acts as a filter from the urban run off and shows the water to be cleaner by the time it exits the golf course. Just this year we were recognized by the national Groundwater Foundation as a Groundwater Guardian Greensite, a status I intend to maintain thoughout my tenure here. This certification along with our Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Certification show our efforts in protecting the land to our greatest abilities.

    While I do not discredit the education or knowledge in Mr. Goldman, his report from 1972 is severly outdated. Not only have fertilizers themselves changed a lot in the past 40 years, but so have the BMPs in applying them. We maintain large buffer areas between areas we fertilize and waterways. For instance, the rough is never fertilized. The fairways(our largest area of turf) get 1/2 the amount of recommended required Nitrogen per season. The greens are foliar fed, and spoon fed Nitrogen to reduce the potential of run off or leaching into the groundwater.

    As for the new proposed site for the 5 holes, I have seen the Fen, and yes its an amazing. The new holes would be nowhere near this, and also lower in elevation. Everything State Parks is trying to accomplish is making the park more accesible to the people of California while protecting the river and Natural Resources on the Land. As of right now the park is really only accesible to the people of Washoe Meadows communinity and they would like it to stay that way.

    This Golf Course is something I am very passionate about. I have a Bachelors in Science in Landscape Horticulture with an emphasis in Turf Mangement from Colorado State University, in my opinion I have landed my dream job. I support my family with this job. I take being a steward to the Land in lake tahoe very seriously, and want Lake Tahoe to be beautiful for generations to come just like everyone else. Please don’t buy into the propaganda people are selling in their opinion articles that I am polluting the ground water or fertilzing into the river because its simply the furthest thing from the truth.

    Thanks for this forum to let me air that out.

    Bobby Jaeger
    Golf Course Superintendent at Lake Tahoe Golf Course

  6. Blue Jeans says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Dr Goldman’s statements are correct.

    As to the decline of golf, the current Real Sports program on HBO has a 20 minute segment on the decline of golf. Apparently a golf course closes every 48 hours somewhere in America. The biggest golf course designers have no projects going here–only foreign projects. Maybe the slow death of golf hasn’t hit here yet but it will and taxpayers will pay for it as indeed they will pay for the new course. Golf research shows that many golfers nowadays want a shorter course. Why not have a shorter course in the current footprint?

    If I remember correctly there was some question about the water testing at the golf course. Seems that testing was not done in the middle of the summer when pollution would be most prevalent but was done before or after the course opened. The comments were made by a chemist who specializes in this sort of thing and her comments are part of the official record.

    As Parks strives to come back from years of scandal and mismanagement it seems that sticking to their mission statement and legal mandates would be a good place to start. Setting the precedent of downgrading official State park land for the purpose of building a golf course will do nothing to inspire citizen trust or encourage people to donate money to support the park.

  7. Sue Ellen Holmstrand says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Professor Goldman: So good you have you speaking about this. Now try and get your article on the “Parks Forward” Facebook Page. While Caltrans is trying to widen the road through Richardson Grove Redwood State Park, and these environmental nightmares are taking place at Lake Tahoe, the Parks Forward Commission is designing absurd looking cabins and suggesting that we need another Committee to study the problems more. Everyone needs to understand that the California State Parks don’t need more money, they need smarter uses of the funds they have. They do not hire Natural Resource Specialists to run the parks–they hire highly paid, undereducated, law enforcement personnel as Park Superintendents and District Superintendents. You and I know how valuable a resource interns can be, yet Universities are reluctant to refer students to California State Parks because unless they want to spend their career as a cop issuing citations to people with dogs on the trail, there is no career with the Parks. The Interim Parks Director is an MBA from UC Davis. She has the ear of other Aggies with the Department of Natural Resources. Let’s all make a little noise about this. It is NOT about making money–it is preserving our children’s heritage.

  8. Blue Jeans says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    Good comments SueEllen. Parks has a long way to go to reestablish public trust by hiring the right people for the right job. Further down the line of employees is the ranger who is supposedly in charge of Washoe Meadows. Everyone I know who has attempted to contact him says the same thing……….he never calls back. Why? So it appears we have incompetence and disrespect for the public both high and low in the staffing structure.

  9. Lynne Paulson says - Posted: August 11, 2014

    How in the world can anyone say that State Parks is trying to make the park more accessible when they’ve had it since 1984 and never put up a sign indicating its presence or trail signs to direct visitors? It is a matter of public record that since our formation in 2006 Washoe Meadows Community has conducted tour after tour for the public (Snowshoeing, cross country ski,as well as hikes to see fens, birds, native plants, etc) to introduce people to the beauty of this park.

  10. Sly says - Posted: August 12, 2014

    Blah, blah, blah.
    How do you expect them to make the park more accessible when all the entrances are from peoples backyards and neighborhood streets? What they need is an entrance from the Hwy 50 corridor that people could easily see and find. The project would provide that.
    Where do these “tours” originate from? Is it a designated place or trailhead? Probably from someones home and through their backyard.
    As for the 1,600 trees that would need to be cut, well there is an extensive forestry management project happening right now just south of the park that is taking many more trees than that by the looks of it. They are making the forest look more like what a forest should under natural circumstances, not to mention a bit more defensible space for the neighborhood and community.
    Golf course expansion is such a bunch of BS, the project would relocate 5 holes and reduce the turf area and acreage as the LTGC superintendent pointed out.
    Hopefully the rangers will start patrolling and enforcing the regulations more, then we’ll see what all the crying changes too.

  11. Melvin831 says - Posted: August 12, 2014

    Hey Sly, there is access to the park from HWY 50: the golf course entrance! It clearly states that it’s a state park too! The only problem is that there is no way to access the river from that parking lot without being in danger of being hit by golf balls! ouch!

  12. LTGC Superintendent says - Posted: August 12, 2014

    The river restoration plan includes access to the park and river with ADA accessible trails and restrooms from the golf course entrance without danger from golfers because those holes would be relocated.

    Also, my groundwater sampling is done spring, mid summer and fall. Always done with a witness and a chain of custody from when it leaves here until it gets to the lab.

  13. Lynne Paulson says - Posted: August 12, 2014

    Someone claimed in their comments that the project moves 5 holes of the golf course into the park. It is important to clarify that the environmental documents for the project selected a preferred alternative specifying that 9 holes of the golf course would be moved into the park. These are clearly shown on a map in the document. The environmental documents, as filed in the State Clearinghouse, do not describe or analyze a project with fewer holes in the park.

  14. Toxic Warrior says - Posted: August 12, 2014

    I attended two walks with the State after their presentations a few years ago and my impression is the State is pushing this because they have a whole staff of engineers and eager contractors that need “brownie points” and reward to complete this project.
    They have funds burning a hole in their pocket and want what every other state and federal agency at Tahoe wants – to develop the crap out of Tahoe to pay their extraordinary salaries and benefits.
    “I” see no need to do anything other than repair the riparian wetlands where they are and buffer the course back from the new stream improvements. Heck – the state owns the property across the highway – why not use that instead of destroying pristine acreage uphill from the course. We’re all getting fed up with this “improvements are the only choice” to remedy Tahoe’s needs !

  15. Sly says - Posted: August 12, 2014

    Pretty clear on the projects website that there was a modified alternative that was selected and says 5 holes. The CEQA probably said something like up to 9 holes. I believe it didn’t matter on the # of holes but rather the area or extent that the reconfiguration went into. Looking at the map on the projects website it shows the area.

    How could the golf course possibly be split by Highway 50? Maybe a cart path next to the river under the Elks Club bridge, or just a crosswalk across the highway? Maybe a hole could be played across the highway as well, that would be real fun. Also isn’t that area on that side of the highway all meadow and wetland as well which is the point of the project to move the course out of it?
    Pretty certain that the “State” doesn’t have money burning holes in it’s pockets, and how does “developing” Tahoe pay government workers salaries?

  16. cosa pescado says - Posted: August 13, 2014

    ‘ I would like to correct all of the mis-information in this article. ‘

    That fact that you are attempting this here says a lot. I don’t play ball golf (lack of money and a horrendous slice) but volunteer my time to accomplish similar (and less complicated) goals for an activity I enjoy.
    Do you need any mapping? I’ll trade that for resources that make ball golf playable for me.

    -Sr. Fish

  17. Toxic Warrior says - Posted: August 13, 2014

    how does “developing” Tahoe pay government workers salaries?
    Well – if you’ve done any reading lately you would know that all these State, Fed and Local Agencies are ALL now geared for large corporate development that pays them fees and revenue- and furthers their necessity. ( State Parks, Tahoe Conservancy, TRPA, El Dorado County etc )
    They literally design their own development plans to suit their own needs.