Sunday, February 20, 2000

Research to aid polluted lakes, rivers


Miami team to study Lake Tahoe

BY RANDY McNUTT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OXFORD — Miami University researchers will study ailing Lake Tahoe in Nevada — hoping ultimately to help improve it and other lakes and rivers suffering from pollution.

        Working with a grant for about $900,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the researchers in April will begin studying Tahoe and monitoring other contaminated lakes. The study will last three years.

        “The problem in Tahoe and other heavily used lakes is that they may be suffering from human use — habitation around the lakes and outboard motors,” said Dr. Sheldon I. Guttman, a Miami zoology professor.

        Miami's researchers will study 13 lakes with elevations of 6,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. All are in the same area in the West.

        The team is led by Dr. James T. Oris, professor of zoology; Dr. Guttman; and Dr. A. John Bailor, professor of mathematics and statistics.

        “We're creating a monitoring system that for the first time will look at the environmental health of a lake from the molecular level to the ecosystem level,” Dr. Oris said. “The result will be new information that will be critical to saving Lake Tahoe.”

        The 193-square-mile cobalt-blue lake, between California and Nevada, is a summer resort that attracts visitors from around the world. Though still beautiful, Tahoe's clear waters are slowly clouding. In 30 years, scientists predict, the water will be murky. Algae already cluster on rocks around the lake's shore.

        Nevertheless, the government and environmentalists think the lake can be saved if action is taken in the next 10 to 12 years.

        The EPA wants Miami's researchers to develop better lake-monitoring methods. With those techniques, researchers will develop what they call an “environmental report card” for Tahoe and other lakes in a 100-mile radius. The methods could possibly be used to study bodies of water in other areas.

        Current monitoring at Tahoe looks at the condition of aquatic organisms. But the presence of fish and aquatic insects doesn't reveal anything about the strength and diversity of their populations, the researchers say.

        In addition, they say monitoring now measures only single contaminants, indicating potential exposure but not actual exposure to the many pollutants that may be in the lake.

        Dr. Guttman said the research will help the team “understand problems and what levels of water quality are needed to help sustain diversity of wildlife in the lakes.”

        He said Miami's Center for Environmental Toxicology and Statistics, led by Drs. Oris and Bailor, is critical to studying lakes' problems.

        “Only six grants were given out nationally by the EPA,” Dr. Guttman said. “We've been fortunate to have a continuing record — nine years of EPA support. Each of us (scientists) bring our own expertise. We have the people here at Miami to train students and do major research.”

       



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