Sand Harbor, NV—At Sand Harbor State Park for the 22nd annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Tuesday, Tahoe’s congressional representatives pledged to keep working together and with local, state, and private sector partners to restore Tahoe’s environment, improve forest health, and confront climate change.
“We must continue to prove Lake Tahoe is not and never will be a partisan issue,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nevada), the summit host, told an audience of about 500 people. “I think together with our leadership, and your leadership on the ground, we can continue
our efforts to secure a healthy and prosperous future for the entire basin.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the keynote speaker, said the Senate last week passed an appropriations bill that would provide $15 million for Lake Tahoe restoration projects if also approved by the House of Representatives.
The funding is authorized by the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. Congress passed the bipartisan legislation in 2016, calling for up to $415 million over seven years to help pay for projects to reduce
stormwater pollution that harms Tahoe’s clarity, restore wetlands and other natural areas important to watershed health, thin forests to reduce wildfire risk, and fight populations of harmful invasive species in the lake.
“You should be very proud of this collective, bipartisan, and across state line progress you have made,” Murkowski said about two decades of partnership in the Tahoe Basin. “When you recognize the value and importance of one of the largest, clearest, and deepest lakes in the world, know that we’re all going to be working together to Keep Tahoe Blue for this and future generations.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who has attended the Tahoe summit for 22 years, touted the accomplishments of “Team Tahoe,” with a broad array of local, state, federal, tribal, nonprofit, and private sector partners all working together to plan, fund, and implement projects that protect and restore Tahoe’s environment.
“We’ve completed 627 improvement and restoration projects and 148 are underway,” Feinstein said of the partnership and the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program (EIP) over the last 20-plus years.
Through a mix of local, state, federal, and private sector funding, EIP projects have upgraded 780 miles of Tahoe’s roads to reduce stormwater pollution, built or improved 150 miles of bike and pedestrian paths, thinned 75,000 acres of forest to reduce wildfire risk, restored 20,000 acres of wildlife habitat and 1,700 acres of stream environment, and opened 3,195 feet of shoreline for public access.
Tahoe’s Watercraft Inspection Program, launched through the EIP partnership 10 years ago this summer, is working and has resulted in no detections of new aquatic invasive species in the lake since the program’s launch, Feinstein said. And the latest defense spending bill is transferring seven C-130 aircraft from the Air Force to Cal Fire, giving that agency the world’s largest aerial fleet for fighting wildfires.
While much has been accomplished by Team Tahoe, a great deal remains to be done. Wildfire is the most destructive threat facing Tahoe, Feinstein said, but one of many serious threats from a changing climate.
“The hot summer season has increased by 26 days over the last 50 years. Water temperatures are rising half a degree each year—that’s 14 times faster than the historical average,” Feinstein said. “Climate change allows invasive species to thrive. It increases the amount of dead trees that fuel wildfires. It upsets the delicate balance of algae that gives the lake its deep blue color. Solving this problem will require a global effort, and to solve it here is going to require for the next 20 years a rejuvenated Team Tahoe.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) called for more funding for research, continued improvements to transportation systems, and greater investments in clean energy to replace fossil fuels to combat climate change.
“We should be investing in clean transportation alternatives—bike lanes, electric buses, electric railways, so we don’t have to rely on fossil fuels to get us around. We should be using wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, and human energy for transportation in Reno-Tahoe,” Cortez Masto said.
As heavy smoke lingered in the Tahoe Basin from large wildfires burning near Yosemite National Park and Redding, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) said forest management and fire prevention must be a top priority. McClintock called for accelerating forest thinning projects to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“For many years, forest management and fire prevention took a back seat at these summits, but now nature is screaming its warning at us through the fires that rage throughout the West,” McClintock said.
With recent federal funding awards and donations raised by the Tahoe Prosperity Center and the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation, Alert Tahoe now has the money it needs to install its last two wildfire detection cameras in the
Tahoe Basin and create an endowment for their maintenance, said Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory at University of Nevada, Reno.
The high-resolution Alert Tahoe cameras are positioned around the Tahoe Basin to help firefighters detect wildfires before they spread.
“Our cameras don’t come equipped with a hose. They don’t even carry a single water bucket to douse a fire. They can’t hold a line to stop a fire. Instead, our cameras help firefighters get on top of the fires early. There’s no guess work,” Kent said. “That’s really important to be able to get on these things right away, and that’s what Alert Tahoe is all about.”
Sen. Feinstein and Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) touted the progress that has been made at Tahoe and urged everyone who cares about the lake to join Team Tahoe and help protect and restore the national treasure.
“When everybody buys in and works together, from the federal and state governments to local communities and the private sector, great things can be accomplished,” Feinstein said.
“I just want to say: Team Tahoe is an open club. We so welcome your participation. There are a number of organizations you can join, you can contribute to. You can show up. Ladies and gentlemen, this lake still needs help.”