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Resilient Tahoe: A future full of potential (Opinion)

Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto speaks during the 2018 Tahoe Summit.
Justin Scacco / Sierra Sun
24TH ANNUAL TAHOE SUMMIT — The 24th annual Tahoe Summit will be broadcast online due to COVID-19. The event will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25. U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto will host the event that will feature Olympian David Wise as the keynote speaker.

Anyone who has laid eyes on Lake Tahoe knows that the lake is a treasure. The crystal clear waters and breathtaking mountain peaks delight locals and draw tourists, outdoor enthusiasts and scientists from all over the world.

On Tuesday, Aug. 25, I’m convening many of these stakeholders, including environmentalists and local leaders from around Lake Tahoe, for the 24th Annual Tahoe Summit — and the first virtual summit. This year’s summit theme, “Resilient Tahoe,” is a reminder of all the lake has withstood and all the potential it has to thrive in the years to come.

When Sen. Harry Reid convened the first Tahoe Summit in 1997, the future of the lake, and the lake’s waters themselves, looked murky. Decades of development, logging, and pollution had taken their toll. But Sen. Reid knew that Lake Tahoe was resilient. He knew that if the federal government supported private-public partnerships and worked with state and local governments, together we could re-write the fate of the lake. And in the 24 years since, that is exactly what we have done.

Lake Tahoe’s clarity has improved drastically in the last 30 years. Other major successes include vulnerable habitat conservation efforts and programs to fend off threats from invasive species and erosion. In 2016, Congress authorized the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which dedicated $415 million over seven years to continue to improve water quality, fight invasive species, combat wildfires, and invest in smart technology to monitor the lake.

I’m working to bolster these efforts in the Senate, and secured the release of federal grant money to the University of Nevada, Reno for its ALERTWildfire program. This network of mountaintop cameras plays a vital role in keeping Tahoe’s ecosystems healthy by helping fire managers spot and monitor fires throughout the Tahoe Basin.

But just because Tahoe is resilient doesn’t mean its strength is limitless. This year, as people seek the healing power of nature during the coronavirus pandemic, Tahoe trails had more visitors in April than it usually has in the high season in July, which has strained resources around the lake.

Locals are struggling to find affordable housing and transportation options, and climate change continues to threaten the lake’s fragile ecosystems. I’m working to strengthen the lake — and the communities that depend on it—so that it can endure the challenges of the future.

I’ve sponsored legislation to promote clean energy and mitigate the impacts of climate change. And just last month, I celebrated the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act, which will finally ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is fully funded. I’m proud to have been an original cosponsor of this legislation and will continue to support efforts that invest in our public lands and state parks.

We also need to do more to protect those who work and live in the lake’s communities by investing in affordable housing options, environmentally friendly public transportation, and good-paying jobs. Through my Innovation State Initiative, I’ve called for more resources to help workers train for the jobs of the 21st century and to support technological solutions to everything from environmentally friendly building techniques to electric buses that relieve traffic congestion.

Those who love Lake Tahoe are already doing so much to support and protect it, from everyday citizens to local governments and organizations. For example, the Environment Venture Trust Fund is funding exciting new research to study how ultra-violet light could combat invasive species without harming other creatures that call Lake Tahoe home. And the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County recently partnered with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit, and Tahoe Transportation District to launch a pilot program next summer that will allow residents of Reno and Sparks to reduce emissions by accessing the lake via public transportation.

Those of us lucky enough to live and work near the lake know what an important responsibility we have to protect this stunning part of the country for generations to come. Tahoe has been a paradise in the Sierra for millions of years, and I am confident that together we can ensure its future for countless more.

Catherine Cortez Masto is a United States senator from Nevada.


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