Cresting the Lake Tahoe Summit (opinion) |

Cresting the Lake Tahoe Summit (opinion)

Mike Restaino
Tribune Guest Columnist

It sounds like a bizarre detail out of a fantasy novel, but according to a statement from the EPA about watershed priorities in our area, Lake Tahoe is so immense that a drop of water entering the lake today will take 650 years to find its way out of it.

I got to be part of my buddy Bob’s surprise eightieth birthday party last week, and while he’s as spry and fast-talking as ever, he’d have to stage eight more eightieths to mirror one water drop’s odyssey through the jewel of the Sierra.

I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about the waters of Tahoe lately, for a couple reasons. First, by the time this article is published, South Shore will have hosted the Lake Tahoe Summit, an annual gathering of federal, state, and local leaders dedicated to the goal of restoring and sustaining the lake.

I get to attend this year, thanks to a generous friend, and I’m thrilled to have a one-of-a-kind chance to hear President Obama deliver the event’s keynote address.

When I come over the Mt. Rose pass from Reno and get that first glimpse of Tahoe blue, I toss out most of my journey stress. There’s something about the way that lake fits into its surrounding majesty that overpowers me.

My other current water obsession is more specific. I’ve been traveling for work a lot this summer, and while on the road, after dealing with the headache of airplanes and airports, traffic and humid summer crowds, like so many people used to the necessary rigors of globe-trotting, I get a little cranky.

Yet when I come over the Mount Rose pass from Reno and get that first glimpse of Tahoe blue, I toss out most of my journey stress. There’s something about the way that lake fits into its surrounding majesty that overpowers me.

Any consideration of water eventually trots out that familiar question all of us in the region consider on the subject: What’s the best way to preserve this lake of ours?

I understand that every time an ecological issue like this is addressed, a cross-section of folks get wary about word choices, but whether you’re comfortable using the term “climate change” or not, it seems foolish for us to sit on our hands and blankly assume that Mother Nature will tend to Tahoe’s ecological needs as our human footprint gets more and more pronounced around it.

I recently read an article in Scientific American about how Douglas fir trees in the western U.S. have dealt with shifts in temperatures over the last century. Dr. Christina Restaino (this guy’s sister-in-law) and her team spent three summers collecting cores from thousands of Douglas firs and analyzed them to get a snapshot of how they have responded to climate signals over the years. Her study found, unsurprisingly, that high temperatures hurt tree growth.

And according to the climate models utilized by Christina and her squad, it looks like temperatures will be going up, so even in a place like Tahoe where everything’s covered in snow for a third of the year, we need to stay focused on doing our part to help the cause, which means keeping things as efficient and sensible as possible.

Even the climate change deniers I know recognize there’s big value to tax credits when you have high-efficiency windows installed, for example. One of my poker buddies thinks global warming is a fiction invented by the left, but he had solar panels installed on his home near Sacramento as quickly as he could, knowing he could save some serious coin in doing so.

We also need to concentrate on things as simple as trash and trash handling. It looks like this fall will bring a new waste management program to I.V., which is welcome and long overdue.

Look at neighboring Sand Harbor over the busy summer — dumpsters were frequently overfilled, which led to bears being drawn in and, under current policy, some of these animals were promptly killed.

Again, it should come as no surprise what side of the issue this card-carrying Democrat is on, but I have a sneaking suspicion that even my most strident opponent on the subject would agree that it’s good policy to make sure trash is stored properly.

In any case, with all these issues at hand, I keep coming back to water, a concern I’m sure will be discussed at the Lake Tahoe Summit. We all have various — and often opposing — methods we want to employ in order to preserve our lake, but as the big picture goes, I have to believe that we all indeed want it preserved.

It makes me want to grab my dog-eared paperback copy of “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” by Tom Robbins that opens with the idea that human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another. All that beautiful Tahoe water — I totally get it.

Mike Restaino is a writer and filmmaker based out of Incline Village. He is also a Vice Chair of the North Tahoe Democrats. He can be reached at

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