My Turn: Tunnel vision is degrading Tahoe clarity
August 19, 2007
The recently released report by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center that the clarity of Lake Tahoe had decreased in 2006 by another 4 feet over that in 2005 should be no surprise.
In fact, the clarity has decreased some 15 feet since 1980, the year that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency bi-state Compact was revised giving TRPA authority to adopt environmental quality standards, called thresholds, and to enforce ordinances designed to achieve the thresholds.
The most obvious conclusion that one can draw is that nothing that TRPA and the other responsible agencies have done is working, except possibly to reduce the rate of degradation, and even that is not obvious. Clearly, if we really believe that protecting the natural environment of Lake Tahoe is more important than exploiting the Basin for the financial gain of a few, we must go back to “square one” in our thinking.
It seems obvious that by now we should have learned that we cannot have our cake and eat it.
The first step in reorienting our thinking and planning is to recognize and accept two basic truths:
– Foremost is that people and their activities (including development) are the primary causes of pollution, either directly or indirectly. Obviously, more people and more development will result in more pollution.
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– Secondly is that no amount of federal funding is going to repair the environmental damage that we have caused already or will cause in the future.
In fact, the removal of pollution after it has been created is largely an exercise in futility. If nothing else, we must recognize that we are producing more pollution by our present activities than we are capable of disposing of.
Regarding the above, I believe that we have reached the Basin’s carrying capacity and that any significant increase in people, e.g., tourists and visitors, and the developments to accommodate them will accelerate the decline of the environment beyond recovery. TRPA, other responsible government agencies, and the movers-and-shakers of the business community appear to be obsessed ” to the extent of extreme tunnel vision ” in their belief that tourism is the only feasible economic engine for the Basin, and that expanding the tourism industry is vital, regardless of its impact on the natural and human environment.
This is demonstrated by TRPA’s Community Enhancement Program and the Placer County Redevelopment Agency’s proposed redevelopment projects in Kings Beach and Tahoe City. All of these advocate the construction of mini “Villages at Squaw Valley” for the primary benefit of the tourism industry, while providing lip service to the environment. If the powers-that-be really want to improve the clarity of Lake Tahoe as well as protect the human environment, they must redirect their objectives away from more tourism and its related development.
The 10th Annual Lake Tahoe Forum held Friday in Incline Village to celebrate the roughly $1 billion of tax payers money that politicians have diverted to “ensure that the beauty of Lake Tahoe will be here for many future generations to enjoy.” Although some of this money may have been spent usefully, the fact is that the clarity of the lake and other environmental conditions have been significantly degraded since the federal funding became available.
Even though more funding will be forthcoming to continue to try to repair past damage, it will be largely ineffective for the purpose intended because of the tunnel vision of TRPA and the others.
Personally, I am not optimistic about the future quality of the natural and human environments of the lake and Basin. Too many of our stewards have never learned from the story of the goose that laid the golden egg.