Climate change serves as central concern at annual Lake Tahoe Summit | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Climate change serves as central concern at annual Lake Tahoe Summit

The 21st annual Lake Tahoe Summit brought together federal, California and Nevada elected officials to discuss the importance of continued partnership in the basin-wide fight against tree mortality, invasive species, declining lake clarity — and the global issue of climate change.

The Aug. 22 event took place a month after the release of UC Davis' annual State of the Lake Report, which showed Lake Tahoe is warming at 14 times the historic average.

"Warming air, lake temperatures, drought, changing precipitation pose emerging and major challenges for us here in the Tahoe Basin," said Joanne Marchetta, executive director of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, from the stage at the Tallac Historic Site. "Climate change is here, and partners around the lake will continue to work together to confront it."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.) the host of the event, pointed to the important environmental work that has been done at Lake Tahoe since the first summit in 1997, but said there is still more to be done.

"Since then, the federal government along with California, Nevada, local communities and the private sector have invested more than $2 billion in restoration projects," said Feinstein.

"We've completed more than 500 improvement and restoration projects; an additional 139 are underway now. We put in erosion control measures in 762 miles of roadways to keep sediment out of the lake, and we've treated almost 70,000 acres to remove dead trees and timber that fuel forest fires. We've restored more than 17,000 acres of wildlife habitat, more than 1,700 streams of stream environment zones, and we've added 3,195 linear feet of shoreline for public access. This is because what I call the Tahoe team — that is you."

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And with the passage of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act late in 2016, funding for more of this work is possible.

In December, Congress passed the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, authorizing $415 million over seven years to improve water clarity, reduce the risk of wildfires, combat invasive species and restore and protect the environment in the Tahoe Basin. Many of the act's sponsors spoke at the summit, including Feinstein, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and California Reps. Tom McClintock and John Garamendi.

McClintock and Heller both pointed to the importance of continued forest treatment through tree thinning and fuel removal in the Tahoe Basin to protect the area from wildfires.

"In addition to wildfire protection included in our bill I am also urging, and did so this week, for new funding for technology such as those used by Alert Tahoe to fight wildfire across the West," said Heller. "My commitment to you is I will not be satisfied until there is a camera that covers every inch of this basin so we can help prevent some of these devastating fires."

Garamendi, along with his fellow Democrats, focused on the bigger picture threat to the planet — not just Lake Tahoe.

"Climate change isn't just happening; it's happening because of us, the human species," said Garamendi. "And because it is us, it is our responsibility to come to grips with this. We have to push back on the deniers. We have to say that this is real."

Newly elected Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) agreed.

"As we meet today, we are not just at a pivotal point for Lake Tahoe, we are at a pivotal point for the health and sustainability for our public lands and environment," said Cortez Masto. "And while we may not have a president that supports the Paris Climate Accord, or a majority in Congress that supports concrete action to stop climate change, each one of us needs to use our voices and stand up."

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt concluded the event as the keynote speaker. Babbitt led the Department of the Interior, which is tasked with managing federal lands and resources, under former President Bill Clinton, who served twice as the summit keynote speaker.

After nearly two hours of speeches, Babbitt commended the elected officials before him for their work, and concluded with a message to Feinstein: "We've got to have you for another term."

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and California Sen. Kamala Harris also spoke at the annual summit.

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