INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Al Gore and the concept of climate change are no strangers to each other.
But inviting the former vice president and subject of the 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth” to speak at Lake Tahoe just days before scientists concluded the weather phenomenon will impact the basin for years to come?
Well, that’s just a convenient coincidence, said Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund.
“They’re completely unrelated,” Berry said with a chuckle on Wednesday. “But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that UC Davis has identified climate change as an issue of the basin, and that Al Gore was here in 1997, and ever since has consistently talked about the long-term impacts of climate change.”
Gore will deliver the keynote speech at the 17th annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Monday, hosted by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will also attend.
At the first summit in 1997, Gore and President Bill Clinton unveiled a sweeping plan to protect Lake Tahoe, and the resulting Environmental Improvement Program forged an unprecedented public/private partnership that’s led to nearly $1.7 billion in investments here since.
Clinton later authorized the $415 million Lake Tahoe Restoration Act to aid efforts to restore the lake’s steadily declining water clarity, and to reduce the risk of fire by thinning forests of dangerous fuels such as shrubs and dead trees.
An updated version of the act was entered onto the Senate floor on Aug. 1, sponsored by Feinstein, Reid, Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The legislation would authorize $243 million over 10 years for the highest-priority restoration projects at the lake, based on scientific data.
“When Gore was here in ‘97, that really kicked off the EIP,” said Berry, whose nonprofit Tahoe Fund is sponsoring Monday’s summit. “Since that time, thanks to incredible support from the feds and the two states, there has been a tremendous amount of progress in terms of environmental improvement projects on the ground.”
It’s the hope of many Tahoe stakeholders that Gore’s return will help usher in a “renewed commitment to funding the environmental improvement program for years to come,” said Berry.
That commitment could be key, considering findings published last week in UC Davis’ annual State of the Lake report.
In the report, while scientists point to Lake Tahoe’s clarity improving for the second consecutive year in 2012, trends suggest climate change is continuing to impact the lake. Last year, the lake’s average surface water temperature of 52.8 degrees was the warmest on record.
The science community is pointing to the report as a reminder that while progress has been made since 1997 to protect Tahoe, much work remains.
“While clarity is improving in the offshore this year, things are not as positive on the nearshore, which is where most of the public engages the lake,” said Sudeep Chandra, University of Nevada, Reno, researcher and longtime limnologist at Lake Tahoe, in a Wednesday statement.
Monday’s summit also comes amid legal challenges to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Regional Plan Update — which sets guidelines for development for the next 20 years for the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore filed suit against the Regional Plan Update earlier this year.
Rogert Patching, executive director of the nonprofit group Friends of Lake Tahoe, which has supported the lawsuit, said he doesn’t expect it to be mentioned Monday at the summit.
“I expect reiterations about how smart growth planning at Tahoe will result in both economic and environmental gain, when it will actually result in urban sprawl, increased pollution of all kinds and the destruction of local businesses by corporate resorts,” he said in a statement to the Bonanza. “TRPA’s rhetoric, politics and happy talk have been very successful in painting a wonderful picture for politicians and the masses. They don’t know what they don’t know, and our side, with minuscule resources, has not been successful in its countervailing campaign.
“Wall Street forces are winning while everyone else is losing. But, you will not hear a peep about this at the summit.”
Monday’s summit also figures to have one of the largest crowds ever. As of midday Wednesday, nearly 800 residents and officials had registered to attend, Berry said, about twice as many as in 2012.