Keep Tahoe Blue column: Protecting a national treasure since 1957
Imagine Lake Tahoe today, but with a resident population of a quarter of a million people. Imagine high-rises and subdivisions all around the Lake, linked by a four-lane freeway and a bridge across Emerald Bay.
That vision sums up plans that were being laid for Tahoe in the 1950s. Those plans would have forever changed this national treasure.
It was in reaction to those plans that on April 19, 1957, a small group founded the organization that has become the League to Save Lake Tahoe. In addition to blocking the plans to urbanize the Tahoe Basin and ring the lake with freeways, our formation coincided with Dr. Charles Goldman’s arrival at Lake Tahoe and the beginning of his long-term measurements of the lake’s clarity. As his science began to demonstrate that water clarity was worsening, and pointed to urbanization and its associated pollution as the cause, our organization was able to advocate for solutions based on his science.
Together, this early marriage of science and advocacy made great strides. We successfully advocated for sewage to be pumped out of the Tahoe Basin. We made the case for strong, uniform environmental protections that resulted in a unique bi-state compact between California and Nevada, forming the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
We have made much progress in the past 60 years, and have managed to stay true to the goals set by our volunteer leaders in 1965, when they first coined the iconic slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue.” Our region’s planners and agencies have come a long way since the 1950s as well. The California Tahoe Conservancy, a state agency, is planning a bicycle path along the right-of-way for the never-constructed four-lane freeway. Emerald Bay is well under protection. And, increasingly, our private developers recognize the value of a pristine lake to their investment, and plan their proposed projects with the health of the lake in mind.
Despite all this, Lake Tahoe continues to face threats. Stormwater pollution from our roads and urban areas, exacerbated by traffic, threatens the lake’s clarity. Aquatic invasive plants are rapidly spreading and threaten the lake’s ecology. Climate change adds new threats, with long droughts followed by intense storms. Environmental restoration that improves Lake Tahoe’s resilience is more important than ever.
As a place, Tahoe is many things at once: a world-famous natural wonder; a major tourism destination; a rich community with over 55,000 residents. Lake Tahoe actually has much in common with America’s national parks, including tens of millions of annual visitors, but we lack the protections of our national park system. Tahoe’s unique nature requires unique efforts to protect it. The current staff and board of the League to Save Lake Tahoe are grateful that our organization’s founders and early leaders put us in a position to help provide that protection.
With the support of Tahoe’s community — whose residents can be relied on to protect the place they love — and the support of thousands of League members from across the country, we are confident that the League will be around for another 60 years and beyond. 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.” Watch a short video of the League’s 60 years of protecting Lake Tahoe at keeptahoeblue.org/60.