By Joanne S. Marchetta

For more than half a century, collaboration and partnership have been the bedrock of Lake Tahoe’s preservation. I speak often of the epic collaboration needed to restore our environment and lift up our communities. The creation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) 50 years ago challenged us to bring people together to pull this majestic lake back from the brink. Today, TRPA is the backbone for 80 organizations and thousands of property owners working toward the common goals of clean water, a healthy watershed, and resilient communities.

Now in our 50th year, we reflect back on our legacy and on the people who embody the “Spirit of TRPA.” Our Governing Board is honoring a special few who have worked tirelessly to foster an atmosphere of epic collaboration and to protect Lake Tahoe for this and future generations. I want to preview some of these icons and their achievements here decade-by-decade, following TRPA’s very evolution.

For the 1960s, we honor Coe Swobe and Dwight Steele. These visionaries helped craft and usher into law Tahoe’s unique and historic bi-state compact. Ours was America’s first bi-state compact to address environmental problems at a landscape scale. With this award we honor their legacies.

For the 1970s, we honor UC Davis’s Dr. Charles Goldman and the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association. Dr. Goldman’s research sounded the alarm that the lake’s famed clarity was in peril of being lost forever. His work drove the landmark legislation to export treated wastewater out of the Tahoe watershed to protect the lake’s water quality. The agencies of the Tahoe Water Suppliers Association maintain these award-winning wastewater systems and deliver some of the finest drinking water in the world.

For the 1980s, we honor Clem Shute and Dennis Machida. These gentlemen harnessed their legal expertise to defend Lake Tahoe and are widely respected for their vision and zeal for tackling challenging environmental issues. Clem Shute recently retired from TRPA’s Governing Board after nine years of service. Dennis Machida served as the Executive Officer of the California Tahoe Conservancy from 1985 to 2005 when he unexpectedly passed away while delivering a speech on conservation near Yellowstone National Park.

For the 1990s, we honor Steve Teshara and Jim Baetge. These steady, consistent, and knowledgeable leaders guided the agency and launched the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program which improves the lake’s environment, economy, and the community’s quality of life. Steve Teshara currently serves on the board of the Tahoe Transportation District and is past chair of TRPA’s Advisory Planning Commission. Jim Baetge served as the Executive Director of TRPA from 1997-2000 and recently retired as the Agency’s Hearing’s Officer.

For the 2000s, we honor U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein from California and former U.S. Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller from Nevada. Senators Feinstein and Reid put Lake Tahoe on the map as a national treasure garnering hundreds of millions of dollars in restoration funding and delivering the Lake Tahoe Restoration Acts of 2000 and 2016. Senator Heller is the only member of Lake Tahoe’s congressional delegation to have served on TRPA’s Governing Board, presiding over the landmark scenic shoreland ordinances decision. Sen. Heller’s leadership in the Senate was also instrumental to the passage of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act in 2016.

For the 2010s, we honor the Tahoe Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Team, particularly the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Tahoe TMDL Team delivered a water quality restoration plan in 2011 that serves as the gold standard for science-based policy-making in the Tahoe Basin. I am also honored to be recognized in this category.

Collectively, we have halted overdevelopment and made significant reductions in pollutants entering Lake Tahoe. Environmental redevelopment projects with multiple benefits are now met with incentives instead of restrictions. And most importantly, we have built a foundation of trust among our partners and begun dissolving the boundaries between them.

Yet, Lake Tahoe remains at a critical crossroads, and the stakes are high. Climate change threatens Tahoe’s forests, raises new threats from invasive species, and may be impacting our ability to regain the lake’s historic water clarity. Residents and employees struggle to find and afford housing, which challenges businesses that want to hire. And as we were reminded this summer, growing population centers outside the Region are bringing increased traffic and adding pressure to our recreation areas.

To ensure Lake Tahoe remains one of the world’s most iconic and inspiring natural landscapes, we must build on the successes of our past and take major steps forward. From these greats, you may be inspired to follow in their footsteps, or make some of your own.

–Joanne S. Marchetta is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency