Those pushing for the ban say water pollution and noise are the machines' biggest faults. The increasingly popular vehicles are powered by inefficient, high-decibel two-stroke engines that discharge as much as 25 to 40 percent of their unburned fuel directly into the lake.
"You can certainly see and smell the fuel on the water," says Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has already ordered manufacturers to reduce engine emissions by 75 percent over the next nine years, but Nason says the lake can't wait.
Fighting back are personal watercraft enthusiasts and those who rent, sell and service the machines. They say the proposed ban is an elitist move by wealthy lakeside property owners like casino mogul Steve Wynn. "Using the environmental flag is a little bit off," says Chuck Shapiro, manager of a Tahoe business that rents watercraft for $70 to $85 per hour. Industry representatives have said they will challenge any watercraft ban in the courts.
* Danielle Desruisseaux