By Cindy Gustafson

The commitment we all share to protect and restore Lake Tahoe exemplifies the very essence of Earth Day. The global event celebrates actions big and small to save our planet and expresses the interconnectedness of people, communities, and the environment.

Cared for by the Washoe Tribe for generations, today the watershed is nearly 90 percent public land and shared by two states, five counties, one city, and the Washoe Tribe, as well as 55,000 full-time residents, thousands of part-time homeowners, and millions of visitors annually. Unlike an untrammeled wilderness, protecting and restoring Lake Tahoe means harmonizing the natural and human environments. The states of Nevada and California established a collaborative, regional framework nearly 55 years ago through the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact—an act that in some ways embodied the environmental movement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and the Bi-State Compact share their anniversary with Earth Day.

A top priority for TRPA and the agency’s 15-member Governing Board is to achieve watershed restoration and lake clarity goals while supporting vibrant communities. Staying true to its mandate, TRPA is guiding environmental progress while providing for orderly growth and maintaining caps on development in the region. Through the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, more than 80 partner organizations are completing major environmental restoration, forest health, and transportation improvements, which in turn are being met with stormwater and erosion control improvements on private properties in the basin.

The Lake Tahoe Regional Plan also provides incentives for environmental redevelopment to guide more of Tahoe’s remaining development rights into town centers to improve walkability, support transit, and provide more workforce housing. This triple bottom line approach is not just desirable but essential in a place like Lake Tahoe, where the environment and communities are reliant on one another.

Even as the Tahoe Basin faces new challenges, the Governing Board and agency leadership are keeping the big picture in focus. The new Destination Stewardship partnership is working to improve the way outdoor recreation and tourism are managed so that the lake, residents, and visitors all together benefit from the region’s main economic driver. Also, transportation partners are expanding microtransit programs and advancing projects like the Chimney Beach trailhead parking improvement project on the East Shore and a new segment of the North Tahoe Shared Use Trail between Kings Beach and Carnelian Bay. These and many other projects are reducing climate-harming emissions, improving air quality, and providing safer options to get to work and school.

Tahoe is also a place where workers, families, entrepreneurs, and adventure-seekers come to put down roots and become the next generation of Lake Tahoe’s keepers, which makes the deepening crisis of affordable and workforce housing all the more troubling. The lack of affordable housing options has led to increased commuter traffic and vehicle emissions as well as substandard living conditions and hardships for essential workers. To better serve the lake and ensure Tahoe’s workers can afford to live in the basin, a host of affordable housing initiatives are being pursued throughout the region. For its part, TRPA has been guiding a public process to modernize land use polices that aim to reduce housing costs while supporting lake clarity improvements.

Since the first Earth Day, the Bi-State Compact protecting Lake Tahoe has shown not only how we can preserve this special landscape, but how we can be a part of it too. By supporting environmental redevelopment, revitalizing communities, and embracing collaborative restoration projects, we can ensure that Lake Tahoe remains a shining example of environmental stewardship for years to come.

From the regional scale to our own daily decisions, there is more we can all do. Take Care Tahoe is leading the Tahoe Earth Week Challenge next week with a schedule of simple actions you can follow every day to help make Tahoe and the world a better place. There are festivals you can attend including Tahoe-Truckee Earth Day April 20th at the Village at Palisades Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe Earth Day April 27th at Lake Tahoe Community College. Join in to experience how each of us can take steps to reduce our individual impact and help our communities match our incredible natural surroundings.

–Cindy Gustafson is Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board Chair and Placer County District 5 Supervisor.