The majestic Sierra wilderness that surrounds Independence Lake will remain protected from development following the sale of the land to The Nature Conservancy by longtime owner NV Energy. The lake provides water to the Reno-Sparks area and is a popular destination for anglers and hikers. It is also important habitat for wildlife and native fish.
Independence Lake, nestled in the Sierra Nevada just north of Lake Tahoe, is one of the most pristine alpine lakes west of the Rockies. It 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 for $15 million 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 that this transfer of lands to 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.
“Tourism is the mainstay economy in the Sierra, so allowing public access was always central to our vision for Independence Lake. It provides an affordable, yet breathtaking destination for locals and visitors alike,” said Kathryn Landreth, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Nevada.
The Independence Lake Preserve will be open for public access and jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy and the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority will continue to oversee management of the water.
“Independence Lake is an important source of our drought reserves for our customers in the Truckee Meadows, and we are pleased that the water quality will continue to be protected,” said Mark Foree, general manager of Truckee Meadows Water Authority.
The lake is 2.4 miles long and a half-mile wide and 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.”
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, which can also be seen from the shorelines hunting fish.
From late June through October, the lake will be open during the daylight hours for public enjoyment. Visitors will be able to hike and enjoy non-motorized watercraft activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, swimming and floating. Fishing will also be permitted subject to California Department of Fish and Game regulations.
Under the stewardship plan, 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 collaborative spirit between California and Nevada that began to save Lake Tahoe has now extended to other important regions of the Sierra Nevada like Independence Lake. A diverse list of partners ranging from U.S. Senator Harry Reid, who championed the project and allocated a significant portion of the funding, the state of California, government agencies, water utilities and the business community, to environmentalists and the recreation community worked together to protect this Sierra gem.
“The Independence Lake Acquisition caps Governor Schwarzenegger’s legacy in the Sierras – from creating the Sierra Nevada Conservancy after less than a year in office, to having multiple state agencies participating in such a milestone acquisition,” said Lester Snow, California Secretary for Natural Resources.
The funding for the purchase comes from a variety of sources including federal funds that were secured by Senator Reid from Nevada; three California agencies, Wildlife Conservation Board, the Resources Agency and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy; 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.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.