My Turn: Lake Tahoe environmental funding is a new ball game
LAKE TAHOE andamp;#8212; Since 1997, Lake Tahoe has been the recipient of about $1.5 billion dollars for environmental improvement programs. But at some point the end was near.That’s what happened when this year’s host of the Tahoe Environmental Summit, Sen. Diane Feinstein, told attendees that there has been no hearing to date on the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act in the Senate.andamp;#8220;And the money is still unknown,andamp;#8221; Feinstein said. andamp;#8220;It’s about $400 million from the feds and that looks very unrealistic.andamp;#8221;It wasn’t just the senator making this pronouncement.andamp;#8220;There’s not enough funding to do anything, so we have to reorder our priorities everywhere andamp;#8212; TRPA, Washington and Sacramento,andamp;#8221; California Gov. Jerry Brown said in an interview following the event. The federal, state and local governments have run out of money, and we just might be seeing the last of big funding for environmental improvement in our day. Yes, Sens. Feinstein and Harry Reid are working to secure another $415 million for the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, but given the economic situation in Washington, it’s hard to believe that those funds will be here any time soon andamp;#8212; if at all.During this time, we have seen a significant number of environmental projects throughout the region designed to reduce sediment runoff. But it’s a new ball game now. Without this significant additional funding, it’s critical to rethink environmental improvement strategies and projects. While the goal of improved clarity remains the same, the method of how to meet that goal will have to change as the resources will be dramatically reduced. To meet this new dynamic there are five critical elements.First we need to be realistic. The clarity goal of reaching 102 feet from the current 64 feet, while laudable, is probably not doable. When those first measurements were taken in 1968 it was a very different world. Today, the funding it would take to make that level of improvement is realistically not there. Does anyone think we can achieve a clarity improvement of a half a foot per year for the next 65 years without significant funding from Washington and the states? The Environmental Protection Agency and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board can regulate all they want, but you can’t get blood out of a turnip. Environmental improvement is driven by economics andamp;#8212; regulations aside. It’s time to be realistic. Let’s talk about holding the line on clarity over the next 10 years. If we can do that, then maybe we can think about clarity improvements over the next generation if the funding is available. Second, given the fact there are going to be significantly fewer resources, we need to focus our efforts with the resources we do have. Let’s focus on cleaning up the near shore. Let’s focus on quagga mussels, small-mouth bass and other invasive species. Let’s clean up the lake where people experience it the most. Take care of the near shore and it will benefit the deeper lake. Let’s also focus on roads. The science is clear that we need a focused, results-driven strategy to deal with road runoff. Let’s worry less about the stuff that doesn’t matter and focus on what does.Third, the lake needs a renewal of the built environment. Much of the built infrastructure around the lake was poorly conceived and poorly designed without any regard to its impact on the environment. We need to encourage renewal and integrate the newest environmental technologies that can reduce sediment runoff with it. We need to increase density to help support transit and walkable communities. This notion that rebuilding is going to lead to less environmental quality is, and has been, ridiculous and nothing more than a means to help fundraising for the environmental industry. Fourth, we need to get real with transit. Along with increased density we need to look at what the cost is to develop a high-quality transit system and it needs to be put to the voters. I realize some may disagree, but other communities have done this; we need to also.Finally, a planning process that works. There is no doubt that the current process simply does not work; that is why Nevada should continue its pursuit of Senate Bill 271 to make formal changes to Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board voting. Some in the environmental community suggest that the existing voting structure is sufficient as it has approved many projects in past years. They are short-sighted and miss the point. How many potential investors and projects that would both revitalize the economy and improve the environment were scared off by the current process? We need a process that constantly evolves with the newest environmental technology. With this new era of reduced government funding, it is more important than ever to attract outside investment to our community. Even Sen. Feinstein called for increased investment by the private sector from the current $270 million over the last 10 years to more than $300 million going forward. It simply won’t happen with the current process.It’s a new ball game. The same old way of doing this will no longer work. There are high expectations and significantly fewer resources available to do the job. If we set realistic goals, tightly focus our efforts and change the process we can have success. Otherwise we won’t. The results of the recent Lake Tahoe Summit tell us we really have no choice. Play ball.andamp;#8212; Carl Ribaudo is a contributing columnist to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the Sun’s sister newspaper. He is the president of the Strategic Marketing Group, a tourism, recreation and hospitality consulting firm. He is also a consultant, speaker and writer who lives at the South Shore. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his full column and additional blog posts at http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/CarlRibaudo.