Key source of drinking water, fish refuge purchased by Nature Conservancy

May 11, 2010
TRUCKEE, CA, May 11, 2010 -- The Nature Conservancy has just protected one of the most pristine alpine lakes west of the Rockies...

TRUCKEE, CA, May 11, 2010 -- The Nature Conservancy has just protected one of the most pristine alpine lakes west of the Rockies.

Independence Lake, nestled in the Sierra Nevada just north of Lake Tahoe, provides a critical source of fresh water to Nevada's second largest metropolis and is an outstanding outlet for sportsmen, hikers and other nature enthusiasts. The lake also harbors one of the world's last two wild lake populations of the Lahontan cutthroat trout and many other wildlife species.

"This is one of the most important conservation milestones in the Sierra Nevada. Generations to come will enjoy the benefits of our actions here today," said Mike Sweeney, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in California. "When we protect forests and healthy waterways like Independence Lake we protect not only habitat for plants and wildlife but also the things on which human life depends, like drinking water."

The Conservancy purchased 2,325 acres of forestlands surrounding Independence Lake from NV Energy, a utility company that has been a steward of the lake since 1937. Visitors have flocked to Independence Lake since the 1800s, and its fairy-tale alpine setting has also intrigued developers interested in pursuing a luxury resort or a private estate at the lake.

"We are confident The Nature Conservancy will continue the legacy and stewardship of one of the most pristine areas in the Sierra that can continue to be enjoyed for its unlimited recreational opportunities for generations to come," said Michael Yackira, president and CEO of NV Energy.

From the Watershed to the Water Tap
The 2.4 mile-long lake serves as the drought water supply for Reno and Sparks, Nevada. Sierra Nevada forests also play an important role in filtering water that reaches the taps in most California homes.

"The protection of Independence Lake is the latest important step for protecting the water supply of northern Nevada," said U.S. Senator Harry Reid. "The fact that it also provides outstanding recreation opportunities and helps protect native fish makes the purchase all the more significant."

A Win for Nature, Fish and Fire
The lake and its surrounding forests offer exceptional habitat for wildlife. Besides supporting one of the last wild runs of the Lahontan cutthroat trout, black bears and the Truckee-Loyalton deer herd roam the shores and pine trees provide perches for bald eagles and osprey.

From late June through October, the lake will be open for public access. Visitors can hike and enjoy non-motorized watercraft activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. Fishing will also be permitted subject to California Department of Fish and Game regulations.

The forest will be managed to reduce the risk of catastrophic regional wildfires--which pose threats to neighboring communities and to the water supply--and to serve as a key wildlife corridor; these two management issues are vital for adapting to our changing climate. The lake will also be managed to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species including the zebra and quagga mussels, which can wreak havoc with native habitat and wildlife and impact both water-delivery operations and recreation.

The funding for the $15 million dollar purchase comes from a variety of sources including federal funds that were secured by Senator Reid from Nevada, the state of California and private funders such as The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Northern Sierra Partnership. NV Energy will also provide $1.3 million to help support ongoing stewardship of the lake.