Guest column: How to Keep Tahoe Blue in 2018 (opinion)
Sure, it’s 2018, but 1983 is on our minds this week. On Tuesday, Tahoe photographer and former Keep Tahoe Blue board member Jim Hildinger stopped by the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s office with a folder of historic newspaper clippings. A 1983 San Francisco Chronicle article caught our eye with its mention of proposals to “expand bus service and begin a ridesharing program” for Tahoe. One of the article’s key points was Tahoe’s environmental standards mandating reductions in auto traffic and air pollution and improvements in lake clarity.
It’s been 35 years, but if you pick up a paper in Tahoe today you are still just as likely to read about all the cars on the road. And while the decline in Lake Tahoe’s famous clarity has been arrested, we still have work to do to get back to Lake Tahoe’s historic clarity, which reached over 100 feet.
With the new year upon us, it’s time to once again look at our progress toward improving Tahoe’s clarity and environment.
For starters, our region still struggles to handle how people get to and around Lake Tahoe. Last winter’s record snow filled our streets and led to backups on the highways approaching our region. Everyone agrees that Tahoe needs transportation solutions, but implementation of any major fixes still appear to be in the distant future.
One bright spot was the pilot of a bike share program in South Tahoe. Last summer, the League led efforts to bring LimeBike’s bike sharing company to South Tahoe, providing visitors and residents a fun and convenient alternative to sitting in traffic. In its first months, visitors and locals made over 11,000 trips on LimeBikes. Average bike rentals were brief and short-distance trips, meaning people likely used them instead of driving for short trips like their local commute to work or a visitor’s trip to a restaurant near their hotel.
Another promising sign was the increasingly collaborative process to develop a new Shoreline Plan for Lake Tahoe. We look forward to continuing to help steer development of the new plan, which will provide key guidance around the future construction of boat ramps, piers and buoys, while providing appropriate environmental standards to protect Tahoe’s shoreline.
A third indicator of progress is the level of community engagement in efforts to protect Lake Tahoe. Nearly 1,500 residents and visitors volunteered their time and labor with the League this past year. That included 881 community members who helped remove litter from our neighborhoods and beaches, and nearly 200 volunteers who participated in the 20th annual Tahoe Forest Stewardship Day, helping to restore the forest habitat in the Angora Burn area.
Last year also brought some obstacles to progress toward a healthier Lake Tahoe.
Despite evolving research showing that fine sediment from crumbling road surfaces add an additional source of clarity-degrading pollution to the Lake’s waters, voters in the city of South Lake Tahoe shot down Measure C, which would have provided stable funding to fix potholes and repair roadbeds on the city’s streets.
Highlighting what could be a more serious change of course for the lake, in last summer’s State of the Lake report, scientists with the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center found that our warming climate influenced last year’s decrease in lake clarity for the second year in a row. There is scarcely any threat to Tahoe’s clarity — algae growth, aquatic invasive plants, stormwater pollution, sediment runoff from catastrophic wildfires — that isn’t worsened by a warming lake.
It’s with this mix of positive steps and growing concerns that we step forward into 2018. We see three areas on which our region can continue to focus in the coming year to protect Lake Tahoe:
Thinking about the article that Jim brought us, people in 1983 were right about two things: Thriller was a pretty amazing album, and Tahoe needs transportation solutions. To avoid wistfully re-reading this 2018 column in 2053, we plan to lead efforts to find more on-the-ground solutions like bike share that we can implement now. It’s too early to know what that will look like this year — maybe micro-transit? Maybe increased shuttles to recreation hot spots? Regardless, helping people get to where they want to go without being stuck in a car helps protect the lake. That’s an idea that holds up just as well today as it did 35 years ago, unlike some of 1983’s other top-selling music (I’m looking at you, Quiet Riot).
Environmental restoration of Tahoe’s wetlands and meadows remains one of the best ways we can undo the harms of the past century’s development. One of the best examples on the horizon is the California Tahoe Conservancy plans to restore the sediment-filtering functions of the Upper Truckee Marsh in South Lake Tahoe. We’ll continue leading advocacy to ensure that this project is fully funded and implemented as effectively as possible.
An engaged community is Lake Tahoe’s best defense. People love this lake, and when given the opportunity, they show it by volunteering their hard work. We’ll continue leading beach cleanups and hosting volunteer restoration days. To all of you who volunteered in 2017, we can’t thank you enough, and we can’t wait to see you again in the new year.
We remain optimistic about Lake Tahoe’s future. With the support of a passionate community, we think we can make some measurable progress for the lake in 2018. Together, we can Keep Tahoe Blue.
Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD, is the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by its iconic slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue.”
Editor’s note: This story was part of the Tribune’s annual progress edition. Check out the e-edition here.