Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Must We Trash Tahoe Forever?

(Also at Daily Kos)

All may seem to be well at Lake Tahoe, but it really isn't. That seemed to be the underlying theme of this year's Lake Tahoe Summit. While there was plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding Governors Jerry Brown (D-California) and Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada) signing a 65 year pact to improve clarity, the smiles couldn't be kept for very long.

The pact to reduce pollution to the lake comes as the effort between California and Nevada to control development at the lake is threatened by a new law in Nevada that requires an easing of the threshold to approve new projects. [...]

Before signing the agreement, [Jerry] Brown and [...] Brian Sandoval [...] held meetings for two days at Lake Tahoe and said Tuesday they would visit each other's state capitol to talk with lawmakers about how California and Nevada will work together.

The cooperative relationship is threatened by a bill signed into law by Sandoval this year that would withdraw Nevada from the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which has overseen development at the lake since 1969, unless the compact governing the agency is amended to make it easier for members of one state to approve new development projects. Such a change would have to be approved by both the California Legislature and Congress.

And if that weren't bad enough, "austerity gone wild" on the federal level may make matters even worse for Tahoe.

Few have done more to try to protect Lake Tahoe than [Senator Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA], a co-author of the 2000 law that has brought more than $450 million in federal money to Lake Tahoe for environmental restoration over the past decade. She introduced a similar bill earlier this year – seeking $415 million over the next decade – but is not hopeful it will succeed.

"I don't think I can get the money," she said Monday at an inaugural fundraising dinner for the Tahoe Fund. The new nonprofit group formed last year to raise private money for collaborative restoration projects.

"That's the bad news," she said. "That's where the private sector has to come in."

Feinstein and her husband, Richard Blum, are contributors themselves. On Monday, she announced they would give $50,000 – a sum quickly matched by two other donors from Nevada. In all, about $200,000 was raised.

Scientists believe more stable water conditions created by climate change have led to an aquatic explosion of tiny diatom-algae cells that scatter light, reducing clarity.

They also said the algae growth is likely to be temporary and that erosion-control efforts remain critical. UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center said in its report, "Tahoe: State of the Lake Report 2011": "There is every reason to believe that if it were not for the decades of watershed management and water quality restoration projects, the lake's transparency would be worse than it is today."

Is this what we've come to? Lake Tahoe is one of the greatest natural treasures in the world...

And it's being threatened because the feds won't live up to their end of the deal while Nevada is threatening to rip the entire deal to shreds? And all of this is happening as Lake Tahoe clarity is dropping toward record lows and climate change may muddy the waters some more!

Sometimes, I have to ponder our ability to take so much of this planet for granted. For those of us living in The West, it's easy to picture an idyllic summer at a pristine Tahoe beach... Or perhaps an equally wondrous winter skiing the majestic slopes overlooking the crystal clear lake. Now imagine all of that gone. And imagine this being replaced by yet another toxic dump surrounded by endless tract house subdivisions and strip malls. And before you think it's "impossible", remember what's already happening to the Truckee River in Reno... And look at what's at stake at Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas now!

Obviously, the trashing of the Truckee River up north and the constant threats to Red Rock Canyon down south didn't start overnight. It took years of mismanagement and ignoring of pleas for more sustainable stewardship. Oh yes, and it didn't help that overly ambitious real estate developers were eager to "build, baby, build"... Until it became "bust, baby, bust" as "The Real Estate Bubble" burst and The Great Recession began. Now, Reno and Las Vegas are left with half-baked "master-planned communities" surrounded by nowhere and the yucky side effects of overdevelopment.

However, this doesn't have to be the case in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe has had the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of Reno and Vegas, and Jerry Brown & California legislators now have a chance to avoid the mistake made by Nevada in threatening to blow up the regulatory safeguards needed to preserve Lake Tahoe.

And Congress has the opportunity to do its part to improve the health and well being of Tahoe by passing the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act that Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid have introduced to continue efforts to improve the clarity of the lake and the health of the surrounding forests.

We don't have to lose Tahoe. We don't have to corrupt this jewel any further and risk destroying it forever. But if we don't act, we'll cede our opportunity to save Lake Tahoe.

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