TRPA not alone in its quest to better the basin |

TRPA not alone in its quest to better the basin

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency may be the largest environmental agency in the basin, but it’s not the only game in town. From big to small, dozens of environmental groups work to help save various components of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area.

Some of the groups are members of the Environmental Improvement Program. Adopted in 1997, the program partnered TRPA with roughly 50 entities including environmental organizations, businesses, cities and state parks.

Since 1998 when the ordinance was adopted, $527 million has been authorized for the program.

The partnership with other entities helps addresses TRPA’s nine environmental thresholds of water quality, soil conservation, vegetation, fisheries, wildlife, scenic resources/community design, recreation and noise.

The groups listed below work with TRPA on various levels. While not a complete list of all the environmental groups in the basin, it’s a cross section of influential agencies and their work, and thoughts, concerning TRPA.

League to Save Lake Tahoe

It is the self-described watchdog of the TRPA. League officials review agendas and attend board meetings in order to “have a voice for the environment,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director for the private nonprofit organization.

The league, established before TRPA and involved in its 1969 inception, has goals centering on water and air quality, soil conservation, wildlife and vegetation protection, noise and recreation.

League employees examine TRPA’s Environmental Improvement Program list, find projects they believe should be completed and applies for funding to address the area.

Nason believes the basin needs TRPA but noted the agency can work on areas like transportation.

“TRPA is supposed to be working on assuring that people have alternatives to the private automobile but it’s not something they seem to take very seriously,” she said. “We would like to see them apply their regulatory plan more effectively including having a stronger enforcement program.”

U.S. Forest Service

Thirty years ago, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit was established. Since that time, the U.S. Forest Service has had the job of managing the health of forests, providing watershed restoration and doing erosion control work.

The Lake Tahoe division of the Forest Service is unlike other wilderness areas due to the rate of growth and outdoor recreation, said Rex Norman, spokesman for the service.

“National forests seldom encounter the huge percentage of urban issues encountered at Tahoe,” Norman said.

According to a study by Indiana University, the Forest Service was a “leading actor in the development of the threshold concept” for the basin. The Forest Service also provides grants for erosion control work to improve water clarity and issued $9.6 million in grant funds from 1984 to 1989, the report stated.

California Tahoe Conservancy

The California Tahoe Conservancy is a state agency that has three general purposes of protecting the natural environment including water quality, providing public access and preserving wildlife habitat.

Through grant funding, the CTC acquires land to help keep erosion in the basin at a minimum. Most of the land acquired is steep slopes and streams in undeveloped areas, said Dennis Machida, executive director of the agency.

The agency also provides grants to South Lake Tahoe and counties for erosion control projects.

Since the start of the CTC in 1985, more than $60 million has been distributed for erosion control. In that time more than 500 site improvement projects have been completed, including restoration of Trout and Cold creeks.

One site improvement is this summer’s project of putting bike lanes along Ski Run Boulevard.

The agency’s annual budget of $20.7 million is mostly received from the state.

CTC shares information with TRPA on land sensitivity but doesn’t exert influence on the agency.

“I think there is some information being shared because we have a different opinion on how a project should go about,” Machida said. “A lot of things that TRPA does CTC doesn’t get involved in. We have to get our permits from TRPA like everyone else.”

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board

Lahontan is one of nine water agencies that belong to the California State Water Resources Control Board. It operates under state and federal regulations to protect California’s surface and ground water.

Lahontan covers the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Since its main concern is water quality, the control board oversees all types of construction in relation to how dirt is disturbed.

“We and TRPA have a similar mandate so many of the things we regulate can be regulated by the TRPA,” said Harold Singer, executive director of Lahontan.

Due to the similar responsibilities, Lahontan and TRPA developed a working relationship agreement in the mid-1990s. The agreement gave TRPA the regulation of single-family residences while Lahontan dealt with sewage issues. Projects of more than an acre usually funnel through TRPA, Singer said. Any construction on the California side that pumps pollution into the lake would fall under Lahontan’s authority.

Singer said the two agencies complement each other based on their similarities. For example, Lahontan can require South Lake Tahoe not to have a certain level of pollution in its storm water. Yet under state law, Lahontan can’t tell the city how to meet that requirement.

TRPA’s land use authority can dictate how the requirement can be met through Best Management Practices, Singer said, adding Lahontan’s job would be much more difficult without TRPA.

Nevada Division of Wildlife

The agency focuses on wildlife protection and enforcing boating laws on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Representatives from NDW attend TRPA’s shorezone meetings and act as an advisory agency.

The NDW becomes interested when landowners who rub against Lake Tahoe want to construct buoys and piers which can threaten a boat’s navigation.

Several years ago the division worked with TRPA and the U.S. Coast Guard on consolidating buoy fields. Wayward buoys were pulled into a grid and the fields were made more identifiable on a map.

NDW also works with TRPA on stream restoration work for trout runs and kokanee salmon.

Sierra Club

The self-described “oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization” in America has a group of 800 volunteers in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The group focuses on land preservation and promoting people to enjoy the land, said Michael Donahoe, conservation co-chair for the group.

Sierra Club uses TRPA posters and supplies for educational outings. The group is looking to join TRPA in its legal fight against a group of Incline Village homeowners suing over an ordinance that regulates the look of houses around the lake.

While the two have a loose relationship, Donahoe expressed dissatisfaction with the agency in some areas. Donahoe would like to see all nine of the scenic thresholds developed by TRPA completed. When completed, they would allow more effective planning on building and conservation in the basin.

“They have more permits they are working on this year than I think ever before,” Donahoe said. “More construction is going on than ever before. More emphasis on threshold attainment is key in their decision making.”

In addition, Donahoe expressed frustration with the power of public comment at TRPA’s meetings.

“Whoever shows up at the meeting can influence whatever stance TRPA has,” he said. “The lake should not be up for grabs. It should not be for sale.”

TRPA’s emphasis on creating ways to limit the release of soil into the lake by landscaping (called Best Management Practices) was applauded by the Sierra Club.

— E-mail William Ferchland at

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