Shorezone mitigation measures should first be proven and tested
September 23, 2005
When the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board meets on Wednesday to hear a summary of public comments to their current shorezone policy proposal Alternative 6, they might want to keep in mind the counsel of Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service.
Pinchot advised, “Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question will always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”
TRPA’s compact is designed to foster the “greatest good” for Lake Tahoe by prohibiting development that will negatively impact any of nine environmental areas of concern, including water and air quality, scenery, noise and fisheries. TRPA also may not approve any policy that will degrade Lake Tahoe at all, given Lake Tahoe’s special status as an Outstanding National Resource Water. At present, 75 percent of the Tahoe Basin’s environmental standards are not being attained, including five of six water quality indicators.
TRPA estimates that new shorezone construction that would be permitted under Alternative 6 will result in an additional 70,796 boat launches per year, including generation of literally tons of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbons and other emissions into Lake Tahoe. Since these impacts would have a significant, degrading affect on the lake, TRPA must demonstrate that proposed environmental improvement programs – “mitigation measures” – will fully offset the impact of this increased level of pollution.
But here’s the rub – very little is known about whether “mitigation” programs have any chance of succeeding, because little or no testing of programs has been done, and there is very little data available. Consider the following passage from TRPA’s draft shorezone environmental impact statement:
“Few in-lake habitat restoration projects have occurred and very little monitoring is available to demonstrate success or failure. TRPA has not developed or tested BMPs related to this type of restoration. … Considering the Region is out of attainment for the Lake habitat fisheries threshold, and the evaluation criteria for new projects is non-degradation, this analysis cannot assume widespread efficacy of future restoration efforts in providing the needed offset for habitat loss.”
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Despite these deep reservations, restoration of destroyed natural fish habitat is nonetheless included in shorezone development proposals as an acceptable mitigation measure. This is just one example of the lack of evidence from field studies or scientific research to conclude that generally untested, unproven mitigation measures will work as required by law. TRPA’s honest critique above could and should be applied to many other areas of analysis as well.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe is asking TRPA to adopt a new approach to shorezone policy, where verifiable environmental improvements would be required before construction of new piers, buoys, slips and ramps could be considered. In the words of TRPA originator Ronald Reagan, we should “trust, but verify” that mitigations will deliver as promised. The only way to verify that something that is not proven or tested will work is to prove and test it. If indeed proposed mitigation measures – such as removal of illegal buoys or a new boat sticker program – reduce boat emissions by, say 10 percent, then “space” will be created to consider new developments that would increase pollution by up to 10 percent.
The League is not seeking to delay development for the sake of delay, but rather to have better assurance that the net impact of new shorezone policy leaves Lake Tahoe in better condition for our children and grandchildren than it is today. We are simply asking TRPA to follow the law by demonstrating that environmental programs produce measurable results up-front, before we take a gamble on developments that will harm Lake Tahoe if left unchecked. An ounce of prevention, after all, is still worth at least a pound of cure.
In a recent Tribune editorial, TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub called for a constructive, democratic process to guide the adoption of new shorezone rules. Let’s take him at his word, and see if we can come up with a plan we can not only live with, but one that is truly “the greatest good” for Lake Tahoe, the people who live and visit here, and the economy.
As Paul Laxalt, who as Republican Governor of Nevada joined then California Governor Reagan in signing the TRPA into law, wrote in his recently-published memoir, “I guess our reward for these efforts is being able to view beautiful Lake Tahoe – still blue, still clear – and say, ‘We had a little bit to do with saving it.’ “
– John Friedrich is program director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at (530) 541-5388 or firstname.lastname@example.org