Lake Tahoe has 72 miles of shoreline. Nooks, crannies and bays big and small dot the shoreline. Sixty-three streams feed the lake.
Meeks Bay is on Tahoe’s West Shore. Meeks Creek comes out of Rubicon Lake and flows to Meeks Bay. The bay was named after John Meeks who, with his brothers, harvested 25 tons of wild hay in the meadow there in 1862. From that time to now the meadow and creek, like a lot of other places on the lake, have been damaged.
Until somewhat recently natural resources around the lake were taken for granted. There was just so much of everything it didn’t occur to anyone those resources were finite.
Over time wetlands, lagoons and meadows were either wiped out or degraded. People continued to move into the basin, making the area their year-round home. Concern for damage to the wetlands, lagoons and forest was minimal at best.
More recently the U.S. Forest Service realized Meeks Meadow and Meeks Creek needed rehabilitation for it to function as a useful wetland that Tahoe so urgently needs.
Swanson Hydrology+Geomorphology in December 2008 produced a management plan for Meeks Meadow restoration. The planning leading up to the report started in 2006.
The restoration of the meadow, already under way, may lead to the restoration of the creek on the eastside of State Route 89. It is a separate and complex issue.
Agencies coming together on the project are the U.S. Forest Service, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The public is also an integral part of the process. Virtual public workshops via Zoom were held in summer and winter 2020. More will be held in the same time frame of 2021.
In 1960 a 120-boat slip and boat launch marina was dredged out at the confluence of Meeks Creek with Lake Tahoe. Lost were around 23 acres of functional wetland and lagoon, along with the loss of habitat for birds, mammals and amphibian species. The marina ceased operation in 2015.
To correct the damage Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service in 2018 proposed an environmental analysis to address issues on the site. As the process of assessment progressed the option of putting another marina in dropped off. It isn’t compatible with restoration. A pier of some kind, an expanded camping area, signage, kayak/canoe/stand-up-paddle board storage, handicap access, removal of some resort buildings and more have been suggested and discussed.
The Forest Service is responsible for providing sustainable recreational and ecological benefits at Meeks. That’s where the forums, all done through Zoom, have provided valuable and mostly thoughtful input to the process. For now there are three alternatives being considered.
First there is always a no-action alternative — don’t do anything, leave it all alone. Unlikely, but has to be included.
Alternative 1 would opt for full restoration with a boating pier (full restoration includes the creek); Alternative 2 would implement full restoration with a pedestrian pier; Alternative 3 proposes full restoration with no pier.
There hasn’t been a pier at Meeks for a long, long, time.
Since the removal of the marina, Meeks has experienced an increase in non-motorized recreation activities, according to Friends of the West Shore, stakeholders in the meadow restoration project. Jennifer Quashnick, local author, represents them at meetings.
Meeks Bay is one of the last places on the lake with an open view. It’s also not that big. There is concern that a pier, of any kind, would ruin that. There are already 280 piers around the lake, with more to come, according to Jeff Cowen with TRPA. Some 3,300 buoys dot the lake as well.
The addition of a pier of any kind could draw motorized watercraft to Meeks, very likely conflicting with non-motorized craft. Friends of the West Shore in a letter to the U.S. Forest Service pointed out that an increase in noise and exhaust pollution would negatively impact those in the water and on the shore.
Interested parties are encouraged to participate in public Zoom meetings; register at meeksbayproject.org.
Zoom meetings are run by Austin McInerny, senior facilitator/mediator for the Consensus Building Institute. He is very competent at keeping the meetings on time, interesting and inclusive. So far around 218 people have attended these meetings. The TRPA mailing list regarding the project is at 800.
There will be four more opportunities to attend Zoom meetings.
The project will probably launch sometime after winter in 2022.