Two years after presidential forum, call for help continues | SierraSun.com
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Two years after presidential forum, call for help continues

ANDY BOURELLE, Sun News Service

SAND HARBOR – It has been two years since the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, and Nevada, California, federal and Tahoe officials said Wednesday they are pleased with the progress made so far in preserving the declining clarity of the Sierra’s crown jewel.

But something that should come as no surprise is officials stress there still is a lot of work that needs to be done.

“We really need help,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “We know what the problem is. One-third to 40 percent of the forest is dead and dying. Pollution and erosion have reduced lake clarity 30 feet in the last 27 years. We have 10 years to do something about that or it will be irreversible.”

Feinstein, D-Calif., and Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn led a workshop Wednesday at Sand Harbor commemorating two years since President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore visited Tahoe.

“I think (preserving Lake Tahoe) is one of the greatest things we can do for the state, the state of California and for the United States as a whole,” Guinn said.

More than 100 people attended this year’s event, including Tahoe residents and representatives of federal, state and local governments.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who organized the original summit, was supposed to host this workshop.

However, his wife was ill in a Las Vegas hospital, and he was unable to attend.

Lake Tahoe’s clarity has declined by more than a foot a year for the last 30 years, and the 1997 summit helped call attention to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s $900 million Environmental Improvement Program. A blueprint for what needs to be done to help save Tahoe, the EIP’s cost is roughly divided into thirds among the states, the federal government and Tahoe agencies and businesses.

Carl Hasty, the EIP director for TRPA, said Wednesday collaboration between all the players in the fight to save Tahoe has improved incredibly since the 1997 forum.

“Are we done? No. But we are getting there,” he said.

Charles Goldman, a University of California scientist who has been studying Tahoe’s clarity for decades, said he felt progress so far was reassuring.

“I am more optimistic than I have ever been in my life, and I have been here in Tahoe for 44 years. People have come together in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible 10 years ago,” he said.

Participants Wednesday stressed that collaboration at Tahoe was unique, and that would be the key to the fight to save Tahoe’s success.

“There’s no dividing line. There’s no dividing line between California and Nevada. There’s no dividing line between Republicans and Democrats,” Gibbons said after the event. “It’s one lake. All of us who come from different backgrounds and different agencies are committed to this.”

Important announcements made at the event included:

— Six Lake Tahoe research agencies signed an agreement to coordinate the research at Lake Tahoe.

TRPA, the Desert Research Institute, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Nevada, Reno, and University of California, Davis, are going to collaborate to make sure all of the research and projects being implemented in the basin are the most effective ways to accomplish the goals of the EIP.

Officials are going to establish a steering committee to evaluate the EIP. Researchers are going to further develop communication to prevent duplicating their efforts. Additionally, officials will work together to develop a Research Master Plan for the Tahoe Basin to help prioritize restoration needs.

— California officials agreed to increase their commitment to Lake Tahoe.

“We must, and we will do more,” said Cruz Bustamante, lieutenant governor of California. “We clearly have an investment in taking care of this lake.”

Feinstein commended her neighboring state of Nevada and its commitment to preservation at Tahoe.

The California Legislature in the past two years has allocated a total of $40 million to Tahoe projects.

However, its share of the EIP is about $275 million.

The Nevada Legislature approved a bill earlier this year which authorizes $56.4 million in state bonds between now and July 2007. Adding that to a bond measure passed in 1996, the action creates the mechanism for Nevada to fulfill all of its $82 million obligation.

Additionally, the Nevada Department of Transportation has been very innovative in its erosion-control and snow removal measures. California transportation officials are trying to model their program after Nevada’s.

“One thing that is becoming clear to me is California has got to match the level of commitment Nevada has to Lake Tahoe,” Feinstein said. “Our hope is we’ll be able to rise to the occasion.”

— David Hayes, acting deputy director of the U.S. Department of Interior, said the recently passed Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act should create the mechanism for increasing the federal government’s ability to acquire environmentally sensitive land.

It changes the way federal land sales will happen in Nevada. Instead of land swaps, the federal government will be able to sell land at market value. About 85 percent of the money raised by those sales will be turned around and used to buy environmentally sensitive land, either near Las Vegas or at Tahoe.

“Sort of an estimate of the land value that can be sold under the new act is $500 million to a billion dollars. If Tahoe gets half of that, that’s literally hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “This is a tremendous tool we now have.”

— Jim Lyons, under secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said one of the biggest successes since the 1997 forum is how Tahoe, state and federal officials have included the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California in the Tahoe preservation process.

Brian Wallace, chairman of the tribe, said the Washoe people appreciate the support.

He said the tribe wants to forget the bitter feelings associated with the fact that Washoe members once were treated as trespassers at Lake Tahoe, where they had lived for decades.

“We’re heading in that direction,” he said after the event, “but only the true testament of time will render whether this will or has happened.”


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