By Julie Regan
While we may have to wait a little longer to see wildflowers throughout the Tahoe Basin, it feels like our mountain community is breathing a spring-filled sigh of relief. As the snow berms shrink and the lake continues to fill, nature’s rhythms are returning. The remarkable resilience that Lake Tahoe residents have shown through the toughest winter in more than 70 years is a testament to the grit and intrepid spirit that comes with living in Tahoe.
Even as we prepare to celebrate the 53rd annual Earth Day and a good forecast this weekend, many can harken back to Earth Day events and Bike-To-Work challenges held amid snowstorms and arctic temperatures. Living in harmony with this special place is never dull, but it is the essence of environmental connectedness.
We are also able to mark Earth Day this year with great news from the science community. UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center this month reported the lake’s average water clarity in 2022, was the best it has been since the 1980s. The average clarity was 71.7 feet over last year compared to 61 feet in 2021. The annual clarity report prepared for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is encouraging news for Lake Tahoe at a time when the ecosystem is experiencing more extreme storms, wildfire, and warmer temperatures. The 2022 report prepared included new insights regarding the role of tiny underwater organisms on lake clarity.
The interconnectedness of our environment is coming to light at the global scale as well. Scientists are tracking linkages between melting ice sheets and changes in ocean currents and jet streams that are causing disproportionate impacts thousands of miles away. From a massive sea rise projected in coastal Texas, to extreme wildfires like the 2022 Caldor Fire right here in Tahoe, we are living in a changing environment and TRPA is relying on science to guide us.
As important and exciting as the news on Tahoe’s clarity is, there is more about it that needs to be understood. We are continuing to stay engaged with Tahoe Science Advisory Council to better understand the new findings. The lake’s own resilience must continue to be supported by water quality improvements to reduce pollutants coming from developed areas and restoration of the broader ecosystem.
Although the record winter may be entering our rearview mirror, we cannot downplay the destructive power of climate change and extreme storms. When more than 58 feet of snow and 14 atmospheric rivers hit, the danger is real. While national media was showing empty shelves, people trapped, and roof collapses, people here were hurting, and our collective determination was tested. These extremes aren’t likely to get easier. To take care of Tahoe, we must remain committed to building regional resilience.
Strong protection for Lake Tahoe also means supporting sustainable communities that can thrive and weather the storms. To lower the impact of development on the lake, the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan encourages environmental redevelopment of older properties. This kind of reinvestment helps modernize stormwater infrastructure and further reduce clarity-harming pollutants. The plan also creates incentives for concentrating development in and around town centers, where small increases in density and building height will support more affordable housing and walkable, bikeable town centers that improve transportation and strengthen our communities.
Earth Day reminds us of these connections and how important it is to stay committed to the progress we are making together. You can find out about Earth Day events happening around the region this weekend at takecaretahoe.org along with many tips and fun graphics that help us live in harmony with Lake Tahoe.
A special thanks to the many snow removers and road crews that have burned the candle at both ends this winter making Tahoe’s roads safe and then filling potholes as fast as possible. For switching hats so quickly this year, we thank you!