By Joanne S. Marchetta, Executive Director

Recently I stood in front of a smiling crowd of people gathered next to the fluent curves of Tahoe’s newest bike trail. Many in the crowd were shielding their eyes from the midday sun that poured over the meadow next to us as curious cyclists and walkers glided past. The bike trail was the southern starting leg of the Nevada Stateline-to-Stateline Bikeway on Rabe Meadow built by the Tahoe Transportation District with the help of many partner organizations. If you haven’t seen the new section or listened to the rumble of bikes over the winding wooden bridge on Burke Creek, I encourage you to do so—it’s the kind of project that is going to raise Tahoe’s geotourism status.

I had the honor of helping dedicate the new trail that day and it was an inspirational moment for many reasons. I want to share with you some of what I told the crowd: There is a relentless sense of environmental possibility around Lake Tahoe today. Positive momentum is building and our communities are preparing for the next environmental leap forward by improving themselves and improving the environment at the same time.

While we are on a steady march to build out the continuous 70-mile bikeway around the lake called for in TRPA’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan, the positive momentum isn’t just about bike trails and public sector projects. New rules are in effect that give a break to many homeowners in the Basin for installing water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs). For the first time in a generation, TRPA rules encourage small home improvements and additions by exempting certain permitted structures and surfaces from a parcel’s land coverage limit if they have a BMP completion certificate. TRPA heard loud and clear the call from the community for simplified standards and increased flexibility for homeowners and these incentives are part of our answer. The new regulations will improve water quality by encouraging more small projects that come with BMPs. For many property owners, a deck or room addition which couldn’t be built before may now be possible. There is some permitting and documentation needed, so please visit the TRPA website or your local building department with your questions before moving ahead.

Revitalization is ramping up in our town centers as well. The completion last year of the Lakeview Commons project has breathed new life into the area along with the water quality improvements, bike lanes, sidewalks and landscaping being continued down south shore’s main street by Caltrans. We are seeing a number of other important projects coming forward on the south shore. The Bijou area-wide stormwater treatment project is about to begin construction and the Harrison Avenue stormwater treatment project may start construction in the fall. Both of these projects are meaningful because private property owners and public agencies are working together to overcome some tough obstacles and sharing the burden of significant environmental improvements.

The spirit of cooperation and positive momentum is apparent when I talk to community leaders in forums each week. They tell me the veil of negativity and “can’t-do” attitude is fading from the Basin and it is coming at a crucial time as communities craft their own Area Plans under the updated Regional Plan. The City of South Lake Tahoe, Meyers and Douglas County through their Area Plans are mapping out what the future of revitalization will hold within their town centers. With each Area Plan comes greater responsibility for environmental achievement, yet through an approach tailored by citizens and local governments.

Of course, all is not rosy and there are significant challenges facing the Basin. New funding sources will be needed soon to continue many of the public restoration projects. Past funding for the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program has accomplished much, but the new reality is that public-private partnerships and more diverse sources of funding will play a central role in the continued restoration. TRPA is also working with scientists to address water clarity in Tahoe’s nearshore areas and to respond to watershed impacts expected from continued climate change. On a bright note, recent water clarity data gives us hope. The decline of Lake Tahoe’s water clarity has halted and last year’s clarity measurements were the best in 10 years.  The data suggest that the investments in restoration and stormwater management are working. Even with multiple jurisdictions transecting the Lake and tens of thousands of private properties across the watershed, together we have protected sensitive lands and are starting to turn the corner on Lake Tahoe’s water quality. This is real progress.

To capitalize on the positive momentum in the Basin, we need to revive our own sense of community and environmental stewardship. I encourage you to keep an open mind about TRPA and add to this newfound momentum in our community. Each year you will see more and more of the improvements called for in the Regional Plan being completed–just like that exquisite bike path through Rabe Meadow. It will take time, but we’re on our way.

Column Next Leap Forward Mountain News July 2013