Author discusses environmental history of lake |

Author discusses environmental history of lake

Griffin Rogers
Author Michael Makley talks about his new book "Saving Lake Tahoe: An Environmental History of a National Treasure" at a Tahoe Area Sierra Club meeting Thursday.
Griffin Rogers / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

The environmental history of Lake Tahoe, including the Basin’s management battles during the past 40 years or so, was discussed at a Tahoe Area Sierra Club meeting Thursday night.

At the event, Michael Makley, an author and former South Shore teacher, made a presentation that touched on portions of his latest book, “Saving Lake Tahoe: An Environmental History of a National Treasure.”

Among the topics examined were the impacts of the Tahoe Keys development, the formation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and a brief history on the proposed Tahoe Palace — a casino that was to be constructed in Kahle Park decades ago, but was never built.

“We still have problems from the past,” he said, noting stormwater drainage and some newer threats, such as invasive species and climate change.

“But even with all that,” he added. “I would postulate that there is reason for cautious optimism.”

Makley, who has now written five books on western history, started his discussion with a look at the geological evolution of the lake before he began to explore the development of the Tahoe Keys.

Before it was built in the 1960s, the Tahoe Keys community was a 750-acre marsh — the largest natural filter for the lake.

“Of course they destroyed the filter,” he said, to a room of more than 30 people. “The river then ran directly into the lake. And from the very beginning, it was reported that turbid materials are being carried out into the lake.”

A few years later, studies showed that the lake’s renowned clarity was being reduced drastically, and thus began a political movement to protect the lake and form the TRPA, Makley said.

Water clarity continued to decline, however, until hitting its lowest point of 64.1 feet in 1997.

“The thing pushing the ecosytem to the tipping point was the population and tourist boom that began really with the Olympics in 1960,” he said.

After the Olympics, the lake’s permanent population from 1960 to 1980 grew from 10,000 people to 75,000 people.

Grace Anderson, chairwoman of the TASC executive committee, said Makley’s presentation received a very “positive” response from those in attendance.

“I enjoyed it, and it seemed very comprehensive,” she said. “His book is well referenced, and I learned some things I wasn’t familiar with.”

Makley only covered the more recent environmental events in his Thursday discussion, but said his book covers the environmental history of Tahoe, starting with the Washoe Indians.

“Saving Lake Tahoe: An Environmental History of a National Treasure”, Makley’s third book on Tahoe, is available on

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