Is it worth the effort?
Isn’t Earth Day every day in Tahoe?
Although environmental issues are always in the forefront here, environmentalists in the basin say Earth Day is a good time to reflect on how local ecological efforts make global impacts.
Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said basin residents are pioneers in protecting Mother Nature’s beauty.
“The reality is what we do here is inevitably going to have to be done everywhere,” Nason said. “Eventually people across the country will (implement Best Management Practices) in their yards. But we are really the first to try to implement these projects on the micro level.”
Basin residents are in a race against time to save Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity, which is clouding up at about a foot per year.
Since 1997, $19 million has been spent on city- and county-funded Environmental Improvement Program projects. The EIP, passed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board in 1998, identifies $908 million worth of capital improvement projects to be implemented by 2007 in order for the agency to meet its environmental thresholds.
“I really believe the EIP is a partnership of all the other agencies, governments and citizens that is key to success,” said TRPA Executive Director Juan Palma. “Each of us who lives in Lake Tahoe can make improvements to our property that not only add aesthetics and value to our property but can prevent erosion from going down the road and into Lake Tahoe.”
As the TRPA Governing Board is scheduled to review the final draft of three EIP volumes next week, conservation districts are gearing up for another year of BMP retrofitting, the League is studying the effects of dog feces washing into Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County is dealing with air pollution from Sacramento and the Bay Area.
These are just a few of the more than a dozen agencies that monitor and implement projects to improve some portion of the basin’s fragile ecosystem. But are these efforts really going to save Sierra’s blue gem, or is all the activism just a waste of time and money?
Environmentalists aren’t claiming these efforts will make drastic improvements even in our lifetime, but say improvement projects have to be implemented in order to deal with increased growth and pollution.
“We know it will take a very long time to make a corrected adjustment people can see in Lake Tahoe,” Palma said. “But we also know the less tons of soil that get into Lake Tahoe now will definitely improve things later.”
Nason said she’s cautiously optimistic that cooperative efforts to protect the basin will pay off. She said the League is studying the effects of dog feces on water quality after pig farm waste on the East Coast caused contamination. As more people and dogs move into the basin, Nason said it is important for people to clean up after their animals.
“As long as we have a growing population we’re going to have to come up with more measures to protect the environment, more sacrifices to care for the land. You become more limited in what you can do,” she said. “The end goal is to pass Lake Tahoe to the next generation in the best possible condition.”
Despite all the environmental precautions Lake Tahoe residents take there is some amount of pollution that is beyond local control.
The El Dorado County Environmental Management Department has spent time and money to get the county’s air compliant with federal and state regulations. Although the basin’s air is considered to be in compliance with the 1990 Clean Air Act, the West Slope, along with 33 other California counties, was issued an “F” rating by the American Lung Association for bad air quality.
The county’s air is primarily poor because of hazardous pollutants coming from Sacramento and the Bay area, according to Jon Morgan, Director of the county’s Environmental Management Department.
“Right along Echo Summit is the worst place for air quality,” Morgan said. “The transport (of bad air) occurs and deposits right at the mountains, which is good news for Tahoe.”
Last August the county Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency requesting federal and state policy makers to redirect regulation to the areas that create air degradation and not burden rural jurisdictions with unreasonable requirements merely for residing downwind of air pollutants.
Although the EPA acknowledged the county’s conundrum with secondhand smog, Morgan said finding an answer to the problem is going to be difficult.
“Air doesn’t know any boundaries,” he said. “All our little districts making regulations help to reduce (hazardous pollutants). But with the population growth and more cars on one side and new technology and more regulation on the other, we may be at a stagnant state. It’s sad to say but it may be true.”
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.