Guest column: Tahoe’s in Trouble
There’s a serious problem at Lake Tahoe. How serious? Serious enough to warrant a “sign-on” letter of warning, jointly written and distributed by all eight of the leading conservation/environmental/citizen-action nonprofits in the area. The authors include Friends of Lake Tahoe, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Friends of the West Shore, the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, both local chapters of the Sierra Club at Tahoe, the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance, and the Nevada Conservation League. Collectively, they constitute the entire first line of protection of the Lake Tahoe Basin. And they are worried. Here’s their letter:
“To the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency,
“Lake Tahoe, the Jewel of the Sierra, is the largest and purest sub-alpine lake in North America. It’s clarity has impressed visitors since the 1800s and it is imperative that we protect and restore this unique international treasure so the tranquility and serenity of this natural resource can be enjoyed by generations to come.
“The multiple impacts of the Comstock era of logging and deforestation, the rapacious devastation wrought by the ‘gold fever’ of the mining era, and the pressures that accompanied the 1960 Olympics combined over time to degrade the lake and region. As early as the 1950s, scientific studies were showing a decline in lake clarity. It was apparent that the area needed regional planning. With the establishment of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in 1969, the previously unrestricted urbanization of the region was slowed and environmental standards to preserve the lake were enacted.
“Those environmental standards are now threatened. It appears to us that the agency is reversing many of the crucial regulations mandated by the Tahoe Regional Compact. We urge the TRPA Board to exercise prudence and do everything in its power to uphold, achieve, and maintain the environmental thresholds it is charged to enforce.
“It is our belief and concern that the proposed Regional Plan will neither restore nor protect the lake. Instead, it will open the floodgates one more time to rampant growth and high-density urbanization, thereby making more thresholds impossible to attain. These consequences would not be consistent with a proud legacy we know the members of TRPA’s board desire.
“As current and former elected officials, concerned residents, business owners, and local interests groups, we understand the economic pressures facing the region but also understand that whatever positive outcomes we may wish for the region are dependent on the health of the lake and its surrounding watersheds. As one of the few areas congressionally designated by the Clean Water Act as an “Outstanding National Resource Water,” it is essential that we ensure that the RPU protects Lake Tahoe.
“We therefore urge you to join us in actively pursuing a Regional Plan that protects Lake Tahoe.”
There then follows the eight signature blocks of each organization. And, at the bottom of the letter is written: “To ‘sign-on’ to this letter, simply send your name(s), title/affiliation (if applicable), and city of residence to email@example.com. And, please forward this to others so that they can join us in this effort! Thank you!”
The Regional Plan will shape Tahoe for the next 20 years and has recently been made public as part of a 60-day review period. The nonprofits are furiously attempting to plow through thousands of pages when there is inadequate time to do so. Pleas for extensions have been ignored.
The plan is premised upon a theory that promises sustainability but will result in urban sprawl and irreversible damage to the environment that TRPA was created to protect. As stated by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, California’s president pro tem of the Senate, in a Feb. 15 letter chastising Nevada Sen. John Lee, “It is both surprising and disappointing to see a national treasure as important as Lake Tahoe become a political hostage to the agenda of special interest groups who have little interest in the many values the region provides.” Lee authored Nevada’s SB271 which calls for its withdrawal from the TRPA Bi-State Compact unless California complies with its legislated demands. Steinberg’s letter correctly refers to Senate Bill 271 as “both unnecessarily inflammatory and deeply counter-productive to the collegial relationship our two states have had.”
As it currently stands, there is little reason for optimism regarding the protection of Lake Tahoe from runaway high-density development.
– Roger Patching is a retired political science professor and president/CEO of Friends of Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.