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Improving the environment to save Lake Tahoe

There’s no question Lake Tahoe’s extraordinary beauty is what makes it a national treasure. The lake itself is one of the largest and deepest in the world and the startling clarity of the water has drawn people to its shores for centuries.

However, over the last 40 years, our enjoyment of this special place has caused changes in the ecosystem. The lake has been losing its famed clarity since the 1960s because of the impacts of development and human use around the Lake. The question now becomes, what are we doing to correct the problems of the past and restore Lake Tahoe’s famous clarity?



This is where the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program (EIP) comes into play ” a multi-year restoration plan that was created following the Tahoe Presidential Forum in 1997. The EIP encompasses more than 50 public and private organizations working together to save Lake Tahoe by repairing damage to water and air quality, forest health, fish and wildlife, recreation and scenic views. The EIP encompasses hundreds of projects, many of which are right in your backyard.

One example of an EIP project in the Incline Village area is the restoration of aspen trees along the popular Tunnel Creek hiking trial. Following the clear cutting of the sugar and Jeffrey pines that occurred in the late 1800s to support the mining efforts in Nevada, white firs were predominantly left. Following years of fire suppression, the white firs began to flourish and choke native aspen stands, starving them of vital nutrients and sunlight. The Aspen Restoration EIP project allowed for the thinning of the white firs, giving aspen stands the appropriate nutrients and sunlight to sustain healthy life and flourish along the trail.



Cooperation and contributions from the federal, state, local and private sectors, including homeowners who implement their Best Management Practices, make the EIP a reality. This financial commitment benefits not only the environment, but also the social and economic health of the region. Most importantly, it ensures the future of Lake Tahoe for the enjoyment of generations to come.

Recent science indicates that lake clarity can be achieved with sustained investment. The Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL as it’s called, is a large-scale, multi-million dollar scientific effort to determine the maximum amount of pollutants the lake can absorb while meeting water quality standards.

Despite Lake Tahoe’s exceptional water quality, it is considered officially impaired since it does not meet the clarity standard based on the known clarity of the 1960s of about 100 feet. As of 2005, the clarity measurement for the lake was 72 feet, according to the University of California, Davis, Tahoe Environmental Research Center. This ongoing research, paired with successful EIP projects are crucial to repairing past damage and minimizing today’s impacts.

Significant accomplishments have been made in improving the Tahoe Basin and we know more will need to be done. An update of the Environmental Improvement Program is underway in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the Tahoe Presidential Forum next summer. The EIP update will be complete in early 2007 and will coincide with the work underway to update plans for the Lake Tahoe Basin through the Pathway 2007 effort.

The TRPA, along with its many partner agencies, continues to support the success of Lake Tahoe’s EIP program. To help get the word out about the EIP program, the agency recently added hybrid vehicles to its fleet with the new EIP logo and web address – http://www.conservationclearly.org. Visit the site today and learn how you can help Tahoe today and preserve it for tomorrow.

John Singlaub is the executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.


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