Tahoe Summit Praises Partnerships

By Cindy Gustafson

No matter where you stand in the Tahoe Basin, you are in a place that has benefited from one of the largest landscape-scale conservation programs in the nation. The Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, or EIP, is the cornerstone to our beloved region’s environmental health. Now in its 26th year, the collaborative program has improved meadows and stormwater infrastructure, built an extensive network of hiking and biking trails, enhanced forest resilience, and cultivated a culture of stewardship and data-driven decision making.

Cindy Gustafson, TRPA Governing Board Chair

This week the Tahoe Summit once again brought partners and the public together with legislative and congressional leaders to the shores of Lake Tahoe. The event at Sand Harbor Nevada State Park applauded the accomplishments of the EIP and discussed solutions to Tahoe’s most pressing issues. This annual gathering reinvigorates the federal, state, local, and private sector funding and partnerships that encompass the EIP.

Prior to the creation of the EIP in the late 1990s, Lake Tahoe’s water quality was rapidly declining. Scientists identified sediment from roadways, impaired streams and meadows, and overreliance on the private automobile as major impediments to the health of the watershed. Additionally, forests were dangerously overstocked, communities were aging and becoming blighted, and invasive species were on the rise.

The formation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) laid the groundwork of partnership and successfully stopped runaway development and created environmental standards for new projects. The EIP began as a bucket list of priority projects to restore Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem and improve our communities. Since its inception in 1997, the key to the success of the program has been the collaboration of more than 80 public, private, and nonprofit organizations along with scientists and the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

The many accomplishments of the EIP blend into the tapestry of our environment as seamlessly as the 63 tributaries that flow into the lake. Since the 2007 Angora Fire, Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team partners have completed initial treatments on more than 65,000 acres of forest and completed defensible space inspections on over 55,000 private parcels. Some of this work helped firefighters save Lake Tahoe communities when, only a year ago this week, the Caldor Fire burst into the basin.

Neighborhoods, town centers, and recreation areas throughout the region are becoming better connected thanks to the completion of nearly 200 miles of new bike and pedestrian trails. And new free-to-the-user microtransit services, TART Connect on North Shore and Lake Link on South Shore, are making it easier for people to leave their car behind when going to work or the beach.

Partners have also treated 134 acres for aquatic invasive species, controlling the infestations that compromise our lake’s clarity and habitat for native species. Since the watercraft inspection program began in 2009, over 100,000 boats have been inspected and there have been zero new invasive species detected in the basin.

Together, we have already made great progress in building a resilient Tahoe. But there are many challenges before us. Climate change adds increased urgency to implementing environmental projects. The lack of affordable housing makes it difficult for our workforce to remain in the basin and remains a high priority for many organizations. Land managers and tourism organizations are finally coming together to create a plan for destination stewardship, to balance the environmental, cultural, and economic prosperity of the region.

The EIP model, built on a strong foundation of collaboration, inspires the strategy for tackling some of these substantial challenges before us. We are well poised to address them because of the regional collaborative framework tried and tested for over 26 years.

Nowhere have we seen a better champion for partnership than Joanne Marchetta, the former Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). As I step into the role of Chair of the TRPA Governing Board, I’d like to thank Joanne for her years of service helping us to build these solid relationships. It was never easy, but she always stood firm in her conviction that through trust and partnership, anything was possible.

The Summit reinforces for me how the love we all share for Lake Tahoe brings us together. We have proven that we can and will continue to work across state, county, city, and party lines for the betterment of this national treasure. It gives us a moment to celebrate our successes and recommit to the EIP to embrace future challenges.

If you missed the Summit you can watch it virtually at https://vimeo.com/737713603.

— Cindy Gustafson is Chair of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board and Chair of the District 5 Board of Supervisors for Placer County.