Book review: ‘Saving Lake Tahoe’
May 12, 2014
Lake Tahoe has worldwide appeal. She brings travelers from all corners of the globe to bask in her abundant beauty and find reflection in her peaceful blue waters. But are we loving her to death? In “Saving Lake Tahoe” author Michael J. Makley presents an all-inclusive overview of Lake Tahoe’s environmental history, from the native Washoe who inhabited her untouched shores to the Americans who used her resources for the country’s good and pleasure. It is a tale of where we’ve been, where we are now and where we’d like to be.
Makley brilliantly captures this saga on 233 pages, citing a linear account of environmental events of major impact. These events include massive forest clear-cutting, the extinction of the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the formation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Much of the discussion is controversial, perhaps even political, but this is to be expected when two states, five counties and more than 60 agencies comingle for a cause and a consensus. It’s been said, “different opinions make the world go round.” This statement is never truer than when environment versus growth, business interests and property rights are up for discussion.
We have almost destroyed Lake Tahoe twice. Clear-cutting of forests on a grand scale brought her to her knees, but, with time left alone, she healed. Then there were the water wars, the planting of non-native fish, sewage pollution, rapid population growth after the Olympics, the casinos and hotels that popped up like spring flowers and the roads that led to them. Lake clarity can serve as a reference point. In 1873 a white dinner plate was dropped to the bottom of Lake Tahoe, setting the standard. It could be seen at 108.27 feet below the surface. By 1973 visibility was reduced to 85.6 feet. Today this same test measures visibility at around 70 feet.
“Saving Lake Tahoe” is not light reading. But if you’re a die-hard environmentalist or if you simply love Lake Tahoe, you will find it vastly interesting. There are many dates, court cases and players in the pot, but each serve a role in Makley’s broad-brushed picture. The recounting of Tahoe’s environmental disasters is sure to strike a blow to the core of your sensibilities. It did mine. “How could this have happened?” You might be inspired to learn more and even get involved after reading these accounts.
The front cover speaks volumes. Here, two kayakers glide along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline in crystal clear, blue waters while massive, smooth, water-worn rocks loom well below the water’s surface. This sublime image, superimposed on a radiantly green pine forest, gives readers a moment to pause and consider the relationship between Tahoe’s natural ecosystems and human activity.
“Saving Lake Tahoe” brings to mind the massive responsibility with which we’ve been charged. We must not turn a blind eye. Let us learn lessons from the past and improve as we look forward to the future. To do otherwise would be a disgrace.
“Saving Lake Tahoe” is published by the University of Nevada Press.
Gloria Sinibaldi resides part-time in South Lake Tahoe. Her short story, “A Means To Survive,” appears in “Tahoe Blues.” She is a job coach, trainer and author. Contact her at: email@example.com.