Editorial: Progress toward a cleaner Lake Tahoe
The good news going into the annual Tahoe Summit is that lake clarity appears to be on an upswing, or at least relatively stable, continuing a trend of improvement from its low in the mid-1990s. Now, as political leaders meet this week to discuss the state of Lake Tahoe’s environment, continuing the progress should be at the top of the summit’s agenda. The next step is ensuring that funding promised for environmental improvement is delivered, and used effectively.
Since the first summit nine years ago, more than $900 million has been promised in the form of local, state and federal money, including money from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. So far, hundreds of millions have been spent on dozens of public projects ranging from stream restoration to erosion prevention. In large part, the politicians have delivered, but there is still much that remains to be done if Lake Tahoe is to remain the nation’s model for environmental stewardship.
Though fire-prevention work has been progressing in the Basin – much of it work by fire safe councils – fire still remains the greatest threat to local environmental balance, not to mention public safety and economic health. To say a catastrophic fire is inevitable would be an overstatement, but in many areas where old stands of fire fuels wait to be cleared, all of the components for devastation are there. This is an area that needs greater attention.
Also, private property Best Management Practices, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s prescription to help prevent runoff of nutrients into Lake Tahoe – the main threat to Tahoe’s clarity – may need to be re-evaluated. Right now, many homeowners are expected to upgrade their properties to be BMP compliant, when a better approach in same cases may be the installation of collective BMP upgrades. Money earmarked for Tahoe restoration has been used for public BMPs, a worthwhile application of funding. Using the same approach for some private property projects (funded with public money) may be more cost-efficient in many cases than individual property-owner compliance.
So far, money has poured into Lake Tahoe environmental projects to the tune of more than $500 million, no small amount for our little corner of the world. Of course, progress can’t be measured in dollars, but by most measures Lake Tahoe’s environment has improved in the last decade. As our understanding of the lake’s environmental threats continues to evolve – i.e. the threat of fire and effects of pollutant runoff – we should remain responsive. And we should continue to expect our representatives to deliver on past promises.