Opinion: Climate change is happening
Tribune Guest Columnist
In the time I’ve lived on the shores of Lake Tahoe, I’ve seen virtually snowless winters, dirt islands rising out of the lake, and the shoreline’s crystal blue waters transform into a dull turquoise-gray. This is not the Tahoe that I grew up visiting, and it certainly is not the Tahoe I want future generations to experience.
We have all noticed the lake’s shoreline receding over the past few summers. It amazes me that I can now walk nearly a half-mile out into the lake at Lakeview Commons and have the water only reach my knees. And it’s not just a matter of not being able to swim from the shoreline — the lake lost 182 billion gallons of water due to evaporation in 2014. That’s enough to supply over 1.4 million California households with water for a year, based on the average household use of 360 gallons per day. That’s a lot of water to lose to the sky when our state is so desperate for it.
Granted, evaporation is always occurring, and the lake has been lower in the past. In 1992, the lake fell 2.75 feet below its natural rim. As of this writing (Oct. 27), it was 1.2 feet below. However, combined with other aspects of the lake, one starts to wonder.
In 2014, Tahoe’s average surface water temperature was 53 degrees, making it the warmest surface temperature ever recorded. The peak snowmelt flow from the Upper Truckee River was only two-thirds of its long-term average, and it occurred nearly a month earlier than when records began in 1961. There appears to be a trend going on here.
This trend can be witnessed not just at our lake, but throughout the greater Tahoe basin and the Sierra Nevada as well. Around 36,000 trees have died in the greater Lake Tahoe-Truckee area in the past year due to lack of water and increased susceptibility to bark-beetle attacks. A study recently published in Nature Climate Change concluded that the Sierra snowpack in 2015 reached a 500-year record low. The Butte and Rough fires ravaged the Sierras this summer, collectively destroying 222,491 acres of forestland, and 822 structures. And that’s just this year’s set of catastrophic Sierra fires. More than 1 million acres have burned in the western Sierras since 2010, moving this decade into second place for the highest number of acres burned in recorded history. We still have four fire seasons to go.
These changes are starting to have an economic impact. The Ski Run Marina had to dredge a channel this summer simply to allow watercraft a way out to the lake without being damaged by low water levels. The Tahoe Queen wasn’t able to reach the dock, and it had to operate out of Zephyr Cove. Multiple ski resorts closed early this year due to a lack of snow, and hotel bookings started dwindling as early as February. Businesses are scrambling to come up with alternative recreation activities to promote tourism. Some powder-loving locals are talking about relocating if this lack of snow persists.
What is driving all of these trends? A changing climate — that we are bearing witness to here locally, and that is already having devastating effects worldwide. Climate change is no longer the fringe issue that it was 30 years ago. It is here, today, and we all must do our part, however big or small, to mitigate it and prevent it from sending our planet and the human life it supports into an unprecedented era of uncertainty and chaos.
This is why I recently joined the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, and why I’m writing today. Let’s start a local “climate conversation” on the impacts of climate change, and what actions everyone can take to prevent their children and grandchildren from witnessing a future where Lake Tahoe is no longer a winter wonderland, but a year-round summer resort; a resort with ever-decreasing water levels that are used by an increasing number of people seeking refuge from the extreme heat of the surrounding valleys.
The newly formed South Lake Tahoe chapter of Citizen’s Climate Lobby, or CCL, will be engaging with members of the local community to gather various perspectives on climate change — from how the Tahoe Basin is experiencing its effects, to what we can do about it. The discussion will start here, in the form of a column. However, I encourage you all to go beyond the paper. Come join us face to face. We meet on the second Wednesday of every month at Lake Tahoe Community College at 6:30 p.m., and we invite innovative ideas to the table.
On Oct. 13, approximately 75-100 kids, students, adults, grandparents and dogs gathered at Lakeview Commons with signs and megaphones to make their voices heard. The group gathered in front of dry piers, joined hands and spelled a human “SOS.” The goal of the event was to not only bring more local awareness to the impacts of climate change in the Sierras, but to also inspire action. One attendee remarked, “Climate change has always been discussed in an economic and environmental context, but after listening to the Pope speak in front of Congress perhaps it is time to Save Our Souls.”
It’s time to come together and solve the defining issue of our time. The climate is changing. We should, too.
Lannette Rangel is a San Diego native who moved to South Lake Tahoe nearly 4 years ago to pursue her passion for forestry. She is an avid lover of the outdoor playground Tahoe has to offer. You can catch her riding the slopes, swimming in the lake, and volunteering around the community for various environmental causes.
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