Looking to the basin’s future | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Looking to the basin’s future

Gregory Crofton

Tahoe has no choice but to balance the environment with the economy – otherwise it’s “dead in the water.”

But before any environmental regulation gets adopted, its only fair to analyze its potential economic impacts, said Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.

Wallace spoke Friday night at a community forum in the Lake Tahoe Community College Theater. The question for discussion: “Can we balance the environment with the growth in our economy?”

Everyone seems to agree that if the lake doesn’t stay blue there won’t be an economy. How to achieve a balance is the real question. Wallace had an answer for that, too.

“I think we have evolved, as long as there are no surprises to anyone, but the level of trust has to come back,” he told the 40 or so people in attendance. “Everyone has to have their interest at the table so the process can move forward. If it’s not that way, somebody is going to sue.”

Wallace was part of a panel that included John Singlaub, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and Bob Richards, a scientist with the UC Davis Tahoe Research Group.

Singlaub said collaboration will be key to adopting a 20-year plan for growth in the Lake Tahoe Basin by 2007, a task the TRPA is charged with. Lawsuits plagued work on the TRPA’s first regional plan, adopted in 1987 after years of delay and a building freeze.

“We’re reaching full build out and seeing the development of more sensitive lands,” Singlaub said. “In the 2007 plan there is a potential to see significant changes. I urge all of you to participate. Last time we did not reach out properly so we ended up in court.”

Bryan Von Lossberg, a resident of Homewood, asked Singlaub how a collaborative process would result in anything other than a watered-down plan.

“How do you make that process arrive at a good, constructive plan rather than one that’s least controversial?” Von Lossberg said.

Singlaub said the TRPA plans to hire mediators from the Center for Collaborative Policy in Sacramento to guide the public process.

“We’re going to have technical working groups, a public participation council and a stakeholder’s advisory group of people from inside the basin and outside the basin,” Singlaub said. “Mediators in those groups will help us get to where we need to get.”

Richards, the scientist who goes out in a boat and takes the measurements that show on average the lake is losing about 1 foot of clarity each year, said a cultural change is needed at Lake Tahoe before the environment will be able to reach an equilibrium with the economy. That change, he said, can only happen through public education.

“The public hasn’t really realized how much comes into the lake through stormwater runoff,” Richards said. “We really need to educate. Early estimates indicate that as much as 35 percent of the nutrient loading comes from urban-area runoff.

“A lot of people think, ‘Well my little neighborhood doesn’t matter.’ But sediment traps and storm drains really do help in terms of the entire basin.”

Everyone agreed that if Tahoe were able to host another Winter Olympics it would be a public relations coup for the lake. And it would likely mean an infusion of federal cash that could help Tahoe tackle big issues like transportation.

Olympics or not, Michael Donahoe, of the Lake Tahoe Sierra Club, reminded people at the meeting the goal should always be to do what’s best for the lake.

“People need to self regulate,” he said. “Too many people are letting groups like the League (to Save Lake Tahoe), the Sierra Club, the TRPA be their conscience.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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