Protecting Meadows & Undeveloped Land: Soil Conservation Threshold
Naturally functioning wetlands and healthy soil are essential to watershed protection. Marshes and meadows are excellent filtering systems for water. Healthy soil easily absorbs rain and snowmelt, and allows native plants to thrive. Well-functioning soil often includes a vast web of micro-organisms that help absorb nutrients and deliver them to plant roots.
Why should we protect Tahoe's meadows?
Lake Tahoe’s inspiring clarity is a direct function of soil and wetland health.
Unfortunately, many of the Lake's natural filtering systems have been disturbed by development and Tahoe's clarity is diminishing.
In the 1980s, the League pushed to enact regulations that limited development in Tahoe's sensitive wetlands. However, over 50 percent of its meadows were already disturbed.
Protecting soilsIt's important to protect all lands in Tahoe, not just meadows, because of the value of their soil to watershed health. Tahoe’s soils are threatened by overdevelopment. Compacted surfaces such as roads, sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, buildings, and dirt paths and parking areas prevent soils from functioning at all. These surfaces are referred to in policy and planning discussions at Tahoe as “coverage.” Tahoe is losing clarity because of an overabundance of coverage. Overdevelopment has meant a significant loss of healthy and functioning soils, and an increase in soil erosion.
The Tahoe Basin includes a variety of soil types, from sandy, low-nutrient soil to rich, organic, living soil. Soil performs two importation functions in Tahoe: infiltration and filtering. Infiltration is the process of soil absorbing rain and snowmelt. This prevents flowing water, called “runoff,” from accumulating, gaining speed and volume, and causing erosion. When infiltration is easy, it enables “filtering” of runoff. Healthy soil captures and filters nutrients and pollutants, rather than allowing them to flow along surfaces into streams, rivers and eventually Lake Tahoe. When water permeates the soil, native plants can flourish by soaking up both the water and the nutrients it contains. Read more about the nutrients and pollutants that are degrading Lake Tahoe’s clarity.
Restoring healthy soils is more important than ever with the threat climate change poses to Lake Tahoe. In the coming decades, scientists predict more rain and less snow will fall in Tahoe, and there will be more flood-causing storms where rain falls on snow. These storms will increase pressure on Tahoe’s soils. Streams and rivers will flow with greater intensity during these rainstorms, causing more lake-clouding fine sediment and nutrients to flow into the lake. Read more about how climate change will affect Lake Tahoe.
How can private property owners help protect soil?
Property owners at Tahoe are mandated to install soil-protecting measures around their homes and businesses. Best management practices, commonly called “BMPs,” are intended to help decrease runoff, erosion and pollution into Lake Tahoe by restoring soil function where possible, and encouraging infiltration and filtering. Each property poses different runoff issues, but typical BMPs include planting native plants, placing mulch on bare dirt, installing catchment basins in driveways and under eves, rooflines and downspouts, and placing a layer of stones under decks.
More information is available from the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.