By Joanne S. Marchetta

The passing of former US Senator Harry Reid in late December has led to many reflections on his storied career as a leader and his accomplishments as a lawmaker. The Senator’s influence on Nevada and Lake Tahoe is so engrained today that his work is like a well-worn path that Tahoe’s restoration partners use to go to work every day.

In my meetings with Senator Reid, his quiet determination shined through whenever he spoke about Lake Tahoe’s importance to his home state and the nation. Senator Reid was more interested in talking about solutions than problems, and the solutions usually began with people working together.

Senator Reid played a significant role in laying the foundation for regional collaboration when he called for the first Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe in 1997. He had taken to heart the slow deterioration of the lake and saw the frustrated efforts of public agencies and the private sector to halt the loss of lake clarity. Hundreds of major projects were needed in every sector to manage stormwater, restore the filtration of meadows and streams, thin overstocked forests, and improve transportation. There was willingness, but the basin needed more resources and a spark.

Reid organized that first summit to bolster federal support for Lake Tahoe and to leverage local, state, and private funding to kickstart the restoration. It was history in the making. Not only did both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore attend, dozens of congressional representatives, several cabinet secretaries, more than 50 state and local representatives, and international media gathered for the first Lake Tahoe Summit.

Ultimately, President Clinton signed an executive order designating Lake Tahoe a national priority, providing the catalyst for one of the most ambitious landscape conservation programs in the nation, the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, or EIP.

Senator Reid joined his long-time colleague Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and their congressional counterparts in sponsoring legislation to bring critical funding to the Tahoe Basin. Since the 1997 summit, hundreds of millions of dollars have been authorized through the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act and Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. More than 80 EIP partner organizations have walked the path together, reducing hazardous fuels on 87,800 acres of forest, treating stormwater on 810 miles of roadway, building or improving nearly 200 miles of trails, and much more. Thanks to the focus on water quality improvements, projects have helped stabilize the loss of the lake’s world-famous clarity.

The economic impact of the EIP has been substantial as well. The restoration program supports around 1,700 jobs per year and for every $1 million in investment there is a direct economic impact to the region of $1.6 million.

Year after year, and summit after summit, Lake Tahoe’s congressional delegation has never failed to return to these shores to recommit, reinvigorate, and help push the EIP forward, thanks in large part to the vision of Harry Reid. His support of key Tahoe programs to benefit lake clarity, create healthy forests, and fight aquatic invasive species inspire all of us to persevere in the face of new challenges like climate change.

In particular, climate change is pushing the battle against aquatic invasive species to a critical crossroads. Attempts to control the massive infestation of aquatic weeds in the Tahoe Keys in South Lake Tahoe with conventional methods have been unsuccessful. Fast-growing populations of the weeds have been popping up along the shores of Lake Tahoe ever since they began to overwhelm the lagoons. And rising temperatures brought on by climate change that make the lake more susceptible are predicted to increase the threat further.

The Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association has proposed a project to test innovative control methods, some used elsewhere and others unproven, including ultraviolet light, EPA-approved herbicides, and aeration. Environmental agencies, scientists, and stakeholders have worked with the association on a rigorous plan to safely test these methods in cordoned areas of the lagoons and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board is expected to make a final decision on the test project next week. Several years of research and planning has gone into this proposal.

Collaboration is still the path forward on solutions to Lake Tahoe’s greatest challenges. Whether it is wildfire, housing, transportation, or the fight against aquatic invasive species, our strength is in partnerships. Visit the meetings and notices page to get involved and to attend the January 26th TRPA board meeting where a decision is expected on the Tahoe Keys aquatic invasive weeds test project.

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