Planning for the future: Study shows long-term decrease, short-term increase in Tahoe emissions

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency at a recent meeting discussed greenhouse gas emissions in the basin and steps that are underway to reduce greenhouse gases in the lake.

Along with the Sierra Business Council and Spatial Informatics Group, results from a greenhouse gas emission inventory were revealed, showing a 38.66% reduction in emissions from 2005 to 2018.

The study showed a decline in in emissions from 1,297,446 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to 795,793 metric tons. A carbon dioxide equivalent is a measurement used to compare emissions from various greenhouse gases by converting them to the equivalent global-warming potential as carbon dioxide.

While the study revealed a positive step forward for the basin in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also showed a 4.08% increase in emissions from 2015 to 2018.

Emissions in the study were broken down by sector, which showed that the energy sector produces 58.98% of the total emissions in the basin, while transportation is responsible for 36.22% of total emissions.

“Those two sectors combined are responsible for over 95% of the emissions in the basin as a whole,” said the Sierra Business Council’s Benjamin Maritato.

The other sectors measured were solid waste and wastewater. During the period from 2005 to 2018, the solid waste sector had the largest decrease in emissions — falling from 147,336 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to 37,244, due in part to a change in landfill operations.

“Most of the solid waste generated by the basin is sent to Lockwood Regional Landfill in Nevada,” said Maritato. “After 2005 the Lockwood Regional Landfill started to employ a methane capture system in their operations, which prevents a sizable portion of methane emissions produced by decaying landfilled waste from reaching the atmosphere.”

There was, however, nearly a 50% increase in solid waste emissions from 2015 to 2018. This was due, according to Maritato, because an overall increase in the amount of solid waste produced by the basin, and compounded by a percentage of waste being sent to the Carson City Landfill, which doesn’t employ a methane capturing system.

Maritato also highlighted a nearly 1,300% increase in wastewater emissions, pointing to better methods for measuring emissions from wastewater.

Maritato concluded his presentation on emissions by discussing future scenarios, stating that if no policies or actions are taken, greenhouse gas emissions are forecast to increase 5.7% by 2045. There are plans in place at the regional and state level, including requirements in Nevada and California on public utility districts regarding the purchase of renewable energy.

Sequestering greenhouse gases

While technology and better practices have helped lower greenhouse gas emission in the Tahoe Basin, the area already has a natural means to sequester carbon in the atmosphere.

“Think of forests and meadows as solar powered carbon capture machines that play a crucial role in the fight against climate change,” said Erin Alvey, a forest ecologist and project manager for Spatial Informatics Group. “The carbon cycle is out of balance right now because our atmosphere has tons of excess carbon dioxide … too much of it in our atmosphere is accelerating climate change.”

Alvey said meadows and forests can be crucial in helping reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but there also is a need to take other steps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent produced.

“We can’t sequester our way out of climate change without a significant effort to reduce these emissions,” said Alvey. “This is especially true because forests and meadows can’t continually increase in carbon sequestration.”

Alvey added that it’s also not responsible to add more trees to the Tahoe Basin due to the risks of a catastrophic wildfire. Work to restore meadows in the area has been ongoing for many years and has included projects by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, U.S. Forest Service, and others.

Meadows, according to Alvey, have the potential to be carbon sinks, but if unhealthy, could be carbon producers. In order to prioritize restoration, Alvey said an inventory of the basin’s meadows needs to be taken.

Looking ahead

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Devin Middlebrook concluded last Friday’s meeting by touching on some of the agency’s plans regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

Middlebrook said the agency is currently working on creating a climate resiliency framework for the Tahoe Region, while highlighting the importance of greenhouse gas inventories in the basin.

“The landfill waste and methane capture, knowing that information on the backend, we can work with our partners in the basin,” said Middlebrook.

Regarding transportation goals, Middlebrook said the agency’s regional transportation plan is currently being updated and will be published soon. The agency also has invested roughly $2 billion in restoring Tahoe’s environment through its Environmental Improvement Program.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at or 530-550-2643.

Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent
Solid Waste147,33637,244

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