Earth Day reminds us how we affect Lake Tahoe |

Earth Day reminds us how we affect Lake Tahoe

John Singlaub

Every April, we celebrate Earth Day. It’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on Lake Tahoe’s fragile environment and how we play a role in its preservation. We’re all extremely fortunate to live in such an amazing place and it’s a constant balancing act to enjoy all that Tahoe offers while treading lightly on this sensitive area. It’s not the effect of one person’s activities, backyard or habits, it’s the impact from thousands – even millions of visitors and the backyards of 65,000 people and nearly 6,000 businesses at Lake Tahoe.

We, as those who treasure Lake Tahoe, are both the problem and the solution to its environmental challenges. We must work together to save its famous blue waters for future generations to enjoy.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency plays an important role in the lake’s preservation. One of the Agency’s most visible connections to the lake is the review of building and development projects. With the grading season approaching on May 1, which officially kicks off construction at Lake Tahoe, I’d like to share what’s happening with our new internal structure that’s being improved to enhance customer service. While we understand that TRPA’s rules and regulations can be misunderstood, our mission to preserve Lake Tahoe remains clear.

Customer Service Focus

A primary goal of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is to improve service to the public while fulfilling its mission to preserve Lake Tahoe.

Since January 2005 the Agency has been operating under a new organizational structure. The TRPA Governing Board approved a change to the agency’s filing fee schedule in February as one of many steps aimed at cutting the time it takes to review a project in half during the coming year. Accountability measures have been put into place to chart progress in processing permits more efficiently.

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The increase in fees will be used to:

— Outsource contracts to allow for more staff hours to be devoted to internal projects

— Hire additional employees

— Delegate certain permit processes to local jurisdictions

— Develop an automated project review system

— Set up a contractor certification program to facilitate plan checks and permit review

You May Not Need a TRPA Permit

Depending on where you live, you may not need to go through TRPA to obtain a permit for your construction project. We have agreements with all local governments, except Douglas County, to review projects such as home additions, new home construction and other projects. We are hoping to complete a new agreement with Douglas County in the next few months. Call your local building department to see if you can work with them directly if you have a project planned.

Exempt and qualified exempt activities do not require TRPA permits at all. Exempt activities do not require any authorization from TRPA and include activities like re-roofing, interior remodeling, minor landscaping and ordinary maintenance and repair.

A qualified exempt activity requires an individual to file a “declaration” over the counter, which takes minimal time and simply requires you to state that the project you are doing falls within the category of projects that do not require permits from TRPA. Non-exempt activities may also require that you file your project with the local building department and pay any fees that may apply. Examples of qualified exempt activities include exterior structure repairs less than $10,000, building a room over a deck which does not create additional land coverage or more extensive landscaping where up to seven cubic yards (equivalent to two small dump truck loads) of dirt may be moved.

Grading Season Begins May 1

Temperatures are on the rise, the snowpack quickly melting and spring projects are on the minds of many Lake Tahoe residents, home and business owners. Grading may be on the list of such projects. Grading is excavation, the cutting or moving of soil for construction of a driveway, parking area, utility line, building or other structures.

At Lake Tahoe, the grading season runs from May 1 through October 15 – when the soil is the most stable and likely to cause the least amount of potential runoff. Grading is not permitted during periods of precipitation at any time or when the site is covered with snow. The soil is extremely unstable in these situations, creating potential for erosion and negative impacts to water quality.

If you missed the Earth Day celebration on the South Shore, try to make it to Squaw Valley for the North Shore’s festivities on Saturday. If you have questions about TRPA, our mission or other topics, please visit our Web site at

– John Singlaub is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.