Fact Checker: Are all Tahoe beaches public?
No one can own Lake Tahoe beaches and shoreline so “private beach” and “no trespassing” signs are untrue.
Jerry Pluto of South Lake Tahoe emailed the Reno Gazette-Journal — and law enforcement agencies and other media outlets — with a subject line: “Who owns the Beaches and Shoreline of Lake Tahoe?”
He wrote about being “harassed” by security officers, homeowners and property managers around Lake Tahoe and complained about signs saying “Private Beach,” “No Trespassing” and “Violators Will Be Prosecuted.”
His main argument is:
“Lake Tahoe is a United States Navigable Waterway and as such no one can own any of the beaches of Lake Tahoe up to 2 feet past the ‘HIGH TIDE LINE’ as per the Federal Navigation Act of 1892. There is in fact a Lake Tahoe Coast Guard station here based out of Tahoe City, Calif. So, simply put, the beaches and shoreline of Lake Tahoe are no different from the beaches all along the Pacific coastline from Southern California to Washington State, and the general public has a right to full access of it. In layman’s terms, what this means is that all along the entire 72-mile beach-front shoreline rim of Lake Tahoe, no one owns ANY of the beaches or shoreline. Period.”
Fact Checker got Jeff Cowen of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to explain some of the terms and geography that will come into play when evaluating Pluto’s claim.
Tahoe is a mountain lake that has a lone outlet at Tahoe City. This feeds into the Truckee River. There’s a 17-foot dam at the outlet.
When the term “low water” is used, as in low-water line, this is when the water is at the lake’s natural rim, as well as at the bottom of the dam.
“High water” is when the water is at the top of the dam. If there’s ever more water in the lake, then it just flows over the top without any controls.
“In drought years like in the 1990s and very likely what will happen this year, water will drop below the natural rim and will be below the low-water line,” Cowen said.
In the places where private property owners have land around Lake Tahoe, they own the land down to the low-water line. Beneath the low-water line, the states — Nevada and California — own the land, meaning this area is public...