Lawmakers chart the way forward for Tahoe, despite climate change and some opposition
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With the growing threat of climate change, Lake Tahoe is entering a new chapter of cooperation. That was the main message of Monday's Tahoe Summit that brought together federal, state and local leaders. Many are hailing the government's updated regional plan as a guide for Tahoe. But some feel the way forward is not so clear cut.
A hazy, overcast sky set the backdrop for this year's summit. Wafting over the from the nearby American Fire, the smoke was a fitting reminder of what scientists say is one of the greatest threats to restoring Tahoe-global warming.
While UC Davis reports an improvement in clarity over the last two years, Al Gore, who headlined the event, says these strides should not create a false sense of security.
"We need to build progress that will help us going forward, even when those temporary factors are pushing us in the wrong direction. "
One of those temporary factors is the persistent drought, which resulted in less stormwater runoff into the lake last year. At the same time, wildfire season is becoming more devastating, and scientists estimate the snowpack in the Sierra has decreased from 20 to 40 percent since 1950. Rather than lose hope, Gore says this should be a call to action.
"Because all of the good that has been done and will continue to be done could be overturned, unless we find a way to come together."
Collaboration was the catchword of the day. California Governor Jerry Brown and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval commended each other for working together to prevent the bi-state compact from dissolving earlier this year. Currently, there's California legislation that, if passed, would solidify the compact.
But some conservationists say the consequence of that agreement could mean putting economic concerns over the health of the lake. A suit has also been filed to stop the updated regional plan, which was adopted last year by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
Down the road from the summit, some North Shore residents say politicians don't understand what's going on at the ground level.
"Right here we're at the Coon Street Boat Launch facility, right in the center of King's Beach"
Dave McClure is president of the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance. He points to one of the stormwater pipes that collects runoff and empties it into the lake. The fine sediment is recognized as one of the greatest contributors to loss of clarity. A part of the TRPA's Environmental Improvement Program, or EIP, is improving the filtration of these pipes. But McClure says it won't stop the fine sediment.
"So instead of the EIP focusing like a laser on these stormwater pipes and resolving that problem. They're completely ignoring it, and the contamination of Lake Tahoe continues."
McClure says it's not a complex problem to fix, but he argues the focus is too much on development.
Governor Sandoval, though, says it's in everyone's interest, including those developing, to keep Tahoe healthy.
"With economic development comes improvement. When we have these project improvements, they do the stream restoration, they take on some of these other environmental projects. I think that economic development is part of the basis of improving lake clarity."
Senator Feinstein says efforts to halt the regional plan are unproductive.
"It's so easy to criticize, and it's not really constructive to do so."
While conservationists and legislators debate what should be done for the lake, federal money is drying up. Feinstein has pushed for more to continue funding research and restoration projects. But so far congress has been reluctant to do that.
Sudeep Chandra is a limnologist from UNR who studies invasive species. He says that money could be critical in funding studies of the near shore.
"I think the new form of management and research at the lake is going to be setting up monitoring and tracking trends that are happening over time. Currently, there isn't a funded program around monitoring water quality, chemical concentrations and biological composition."
Researchers like Chandra say for years there was money available for such projects and they hope that will be the case in the future, as well.