Lake Tahoe water quality improves with elimination of two-stroke marine engines

Water quality in Lake Tahoa--a beautiful, pristine lake that straddles the border of California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevada mountains--has long been a passion of those who reside on the shores of the second deepest body of water in America (1645 feet). With enough water to supply everyone in the United States with 50 gallons of water per day for five years, residents of this resort destination take great pride in this natural wonder that was formed two million years ago.

By 1999, great concern existed about the levels of gasoline entering the lake from two-stroke marine engines. According to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), up to 770 gallons of unburned fuel, including the additive MTBE, were entering the lake every day of the boating season. The TRPA reached a compromise with the marine industry in 1999 to implement a phased ban on two-stroke engines. Certain two-cycle engines were permitted on the lake until Oct. 1, 2001, including two classes of fuel-injected engines, conventional carbureted engines of 10 horsepower or less, all sailboat auxiliary engines, and engines that already meet federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards set for 2001. After that deadline, only direct fuel injection two-cycle engines and engines that met the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2006 standards or the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) 2001 standards were permitted.

Four-stroke engines, including Honda's low-emission outboard engines and four-stroke powered personal watercraft (PWC), were not affected by the ban. Unlike its competitors, Honda only used four-stroke designs to power its marine engines and AquaTrax line of PWCs because they were more efficient and produced far fewer pollutants than conventional two-stroke powered marine engines and PWCs.

As a result of Lake Tahoe's two-stroke ban and the introduction of four-stroke powered watercraft like Honda's AquaTrax models, the lake has seen a dramatic reduction in levels of burned and unburned gasoline products in the water, according to a story published by the Associated Press on September 14, 2004. In the story, Rita Whitney, a hydrologist for the TRPA, said, "As much as it was difficult to replace fleets of jet skis, it was well worth it. I want people to know their hardship paid off in terms of conclusive data that shows a definite reduction in loading of gasoline products to the lake." According to Whitney, levels of gasoline in the lake have declined 80 to 90 percent, making the lake safer for fish, wildlife and residents who rely on the lake as a source for drinking water.

The AP story also noted businesses that rented boats and personal watercraft feared that converting their fleets to more expensive four-stroke machines would force them out of business. Despite the cost of converting to four-stoke power, however, no businesses ended up closing.

The success of the Lake Tahoe clean water initiative is testimony that technology can serve to make our environment cleaner and renewable. Honda is a company with a proud history of building low-emission engines; conservation of the natural environment is a fundamental company principle. Today, Honda's powersports products all employ efficient four-stroke engines (with the exception of certain closed-course, competition-only motocross motorcycles). Like the AquaTrax line, many of these products meet future emission standards today, while still providing the performance and durability that customers expect from Honda. Exceeding customers' and society's demands is not just good business, it's the Honda way.

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