Guest column: The Lake Tahoe plan doesn’t protect the lake

Michael Brune and Kathryn Phillips
Sierra Club

Recently, we’ve read or heard references to Sierra Club’s stance on protecting Lake Tahoe that make us scratch our heads. Why, we wonder, do some people continue to claim that the club’s opposition to new development plans is driven by a handful of volunteers who have gone rogue?

The only answer we can come up with is that by making that claim, the opponents hope to diminish the validity of Sierra Club’s position. At a loss for responding effectively to the heart of the matter, they have chosen to attack our volunteers and the club’s local Tahoe Group.

So let us be perfectly clear: Sierra Club has challenged the new regional plan update prepared by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency because we strongly believe that plan will not protect Lake Tahoe’s clarity and water quality. We believe it violates the spirit of the bi-state compact. That compact was and is intended to help restore the lake to its former clarity and protect the Tahoe region from the sort of pollution that is common in urban areas. The regional plan update simply doesn’t do that. That’s why we are challenging the plan update.

The regional plan update has a raft of problems. Our volunteers submitted concerns as the plan was being developed and in public comments during meetings about the plan, but they have not been addressed. In a nutshell, the plan encourages more development without ensuring that that development won’t create more air pollution, more runoff into the lake, and more algal and other contamination that damages the lake’s clarity and quality.

We have taken a principled stand; it is a stand with purpose: We are determined to protect Lake Tahoe. We are determined to give future generations a chance to experience the unique clarity of what Sierra Club founder John Muir called “the queen of lakes.”

Lake Tahoe in 1873 was a place Muir described viewing as he walked the woods surrounding it, “pausing countless times to absorb the blue glimpses of the lake, all so heavenly clean, so terrestrial yet so openly spiritual.” It is our expectation that a hiker in 2073 will also be moved to be reminded by Lake Tahoe “of all the mountain lakes I ever knew, as if this were a kind of water heaven to which they all had come.”

Our lawsuit is on behalf of our 2.4 million members and supporters around the country, people who stubbornly retain an optimistic devotion to the environment. It is for the future, the hikers who will walk the trail later.

In short, we’re united — local, state and national Sierra Club — on our position on the regional plan update for Lake Tahoe. The plan needs to go back to the drawing board. We will continue to work united to ensure that Lake Tahoe is restored and preserved.

— Michael Brune is executive director of Sierra Club. Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California.

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