‘Thanks a million’: Goldman recognized for historic work at Lake Tahoe

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — It’s safe to say that without Dr. Charles Goldman, Lake Tahoe would not have the same beautiful, crystal clear blue water it has today.

Goldman’s work and research transformed the way people think about lake transparency and led to the formation of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

As a thank you to him and a 90th birthday present, TERC and the League to Save Lake Tahoe launched the “thanks a million” campaign to save $1 million for the Charles Goldman Endowed Fund which will provide research stipends.

Goldman grew up in the midwest and spent a lot of time as a kid fishing in the many midwestern lakes. He earned a degree in geology and, after serving in the Korean War, received a masters in zoology.

In 1958, he received his PhD in limnology, the study of biological, chemical, and physical features of lakes and other bodies of freshwater, from the University of Michigan. Then he, along with his wife and kids, packed up their station wagon with all of their belongings in a canoe on the roof and drove to California where Goldman began teaching at UC Davis.

His resume is expansive and his experiences are remarkable, including spending time in New Zealand studying lakes and having a glacier in Antarctica named after him (which he said was because of the beer he brewed while on the continent). He’s also carried the Olympic torch, published four books, has written over 450 scientific articles, and has produced four documentary films that are in worldwide distribution.

However, the work he’s done over the past 62 years in Lake Tahoe has changed the course of history for the basin.

“After observing conditions, I noticed Tahoe was going to be really endangered for greening,” Goldman said, because of nutrients fertilizing algae in the lake.

He studied algal growth and made some of the first secchi disk measurements, tracking visibility.

Most of the work he and his many students were doing in the 60s and 70s was out of a garage.

They received a $100,000 grant to build a facility but they couldn’t get the permits from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The grant was a use it or lose it situation so taking a huge risk, Goldman bought a boat to use for research.

“That boat was instrumental in taking out potential donors to see what work we were doing,” Goldman said.

With the help of Goldman’s boat, TERC was able to open a world class lab in Tahoe City and their offices and facilities are in Incline Village. In addition, Goldman hosted President Bill Clinton on the research boat, bringing national attention to the scientific work being done in Tahoe.

During his research of algal growth, he realized waste water from South Lake Tahoe contained ammonia which is a huge source of nutrients for algae. He used his research to convince the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which now has some of the best waste water treatments in the world, to work to remove the ammonia from the water.

But for Goldman, his biggest accomplishment isn’t the glacier in his name, or changing the course of history for Lake Tahoe, it’s the impact he’s had on his students and the work they’ve gone on to do.

He has supervised over 100 graduate students and 34 postdoctoral researchers during his five decades teaching at UC Davis. Among his students are Dr. Carol Folt, President of University of Southern California, Dr. Amanda Vincent, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and National Academy of Sciences member Dr. Jim Elser.

Goldman speaks of his former students with such pride so for TERC to launch the Charles Goldman Endowment Fund is the perfect way to honor him.

“That’s the most important thing they could do with my name,” Goldman said.

At 90 years old, Goldman is not slowing down. He walks at least two miles a day and has written children’s books following the scientific adventures of Tad the Toad.

“I like to think I’m the new 60,” Goldman said.

To donate to the fund, visit

To see a complete list of Goldman’s accomplishments, visit

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