My Turn: Tahoe needs continued commitment
Earlier this year, we got some encouraging news about Lake Tahoe. Scientists, who for a generation have documented a loss of over 30 feet of water clarity at the lake, were able to say with certainty that the rate of decline has slowed.
Since 2001, they said, the long-term downward trend of continuous decline has flattened. Being the expert scientists they are, the group stopped short of speculating on a cause for this positive trend. Having conducted a more sophisticated analysis than has been available in the past, however, they stated definitively that for a period of seven years, something was changing.
This change in the lake coincided with the period of time that TRPA and its many public and private partners started delivering important water quality projects aimed at benefiting the lake as part of the Environmental Improvement Program. Between 1997 and 2007, $1.1 billion has been spent under the EIP to improve water quality, forest health, air quality, habitat for wildlife, recreation and other critical resources. About half of that money was spent on projects designed to improve watersheds and water quality overall. This included restoration of 739 acres of wetlands and installation of stormwater treatment infrastructure along 26 miles of state highway. This combined with erosion control treatments at private residences and in our redevelopment areas, helped reduce by great volumes the contaminants we know are the reason lake clarity has been slipping.
While the studies continue and our knowledge expands, I feel confident suggesting that the water quality improvements made in the Lake Tahoe Basin are at the very least part of the reason clarity loss has slowed. The new clarity results are encouraging news for ultimately restoring the Lake to the 100 feet of clarity seen here in the 1960s. Because of new science, we know how to accomplish that ultimate goal, and are hopeful that we can actually reverse the decline and improve the average clarity reading to 80 feet in the lake in 20 years ” an ambitious interim goal that is going to require a lot more work ” and a continued commitment to and investment in the EIP and Lake Tahoe.
The good news comes at the right time. As I write this, we are preparing to launch an updated EIP. To keep critical environmental restoration projects moving forward to help us achieve all of our environmental goals will require a continued commitment from the federal government, the states of California and Nevada, local governments, and private partners.
This weekend, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will co-sponsor the 12th Lake Tahoe Environmental Summit on the grounds of the historic Valhalla estate at the Tallac Historic Site. This venue is an appropriate setting for a discussion on our continued commitment to the Lake and the EIP in light not only of the accomplishments of the past but also in light of our new challenges, including climate change and wildfire. In the coming months, all of us who care about Lake Tahoe will have to decide if we are willing to go to the expense and hard work of taking our commitment to the next level.
We know the answers won’t come easy but we also know that a price tag cannot be placed on Lake Tahoe. History will be the judge of whether we’ve done enough to preserve this spectacular place for those who come after us.
John Singlaub is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. For information about Lake Tahoe, the EIP and the collaborative effort to restore the Lake, visit http://www.conservationclearly.org.