By Joanne S. Marchetta

This past Tuesday, federal, state, and local leaders, along with hundreds of your neighbors gathered on the south shore of Lake Tahoe for the 23rd annual Tahoe Summit. Historic Valhalla served as the backdrop for the annual event, a gathering for those who love this lake so dearly. For more than two decades, inspired by Tahoe’s beauty, we have come together to renew our pledge to protect, preserve, and restore all that Lake Tahoe has to offer.

Since that first Presidential Summit in 1997, we have made great strides in our fight to save Big Blue. In the 1990s, Lake Tahoe was losing on average, a foot of clarity a year. The numbers were shocking; they sounded the alarm that the lake needed protecting. The crystalline waters that had beckoned people here for hundreds of years were in danger of becoming a murky mess.

In the intervening 20 years, we have stabilized the lake’s clarity levels. Guided by scientific research and pushed forward by the herculean efforts of those involved in the Environmental Improvement Program, Tahoe’s clarity is responding in a positive way.

Lake Tahoe’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) calls for reductions in the amount of polluted stormwater flowing into the lake. Everyone plays a role toward this goal – from homeowners completing erosion control best management practices on their properties to local governments improving drainage infrastructure. We are making progress. Over the last six years, it’s estimated we’ve prevented 443,000 pounds of fine sediment from entering Lake Tahoe’s waters.

Research shows that 70 percent of the fine sediment washing into the lake comes from runoff from roads, and other urban land uses. EIP partners have had great success in diverting stormwater runoff into filtering catchments. The California Department of Transportation, Nevada Department of Transportation, along with county and municipal governments, last year alone cleaned nearly 6,000 miles of roadways using high-tech sweepers to pick up fine sediment particles.

Still, this is not enough. If anything, the performance of the past 20 years has only provided us a buffer. As we heard from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein this week, Lake Tahoe now faces a host of new challenges and threats.

“Climate Change is not an issue we can ignore, if we do so, we do so at our own peril,” Feinstein said.

The leading culprit we know is a changing climate and the host of problems that come along with it. Warming air temperatures, warming lake temperatures, more extreme weather events, periods of drought, extreme fire behavior, all these are emerging threats to Lake Tahoe’s waters and the surrounding environment.

Forest health remains a significant theme in our restoration work at Tahoe. Since the 2007 Angora Fire, the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team has aggressively treated and thinned some 57,000 Tahoe acres.

State and local fire agencies completed defensible space inspections on more than 4,400 parcels to reduce the threat of wildfire near homes. And utility companies are now preparing to proactively cut power to the grid when faced with especially dangerous fire weather.

In this year’s keynote remarks by California Governor Gavin Newsom, the governor detailed the tough work being done in and around Lake Tahoe to make our environment more resilient in the light of the emerging challenges facing Lake Tahoe.

“We recognize that old African proverb,” said California Governor Newsom, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. That commitment is demonstrable, and it is here today.”

Mark Twain said, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” The price of land in Tahoe and other factors are creating a perfect storm that’s causing an affordable housing crisis. The idea of the “missing middle” is a big focus among local and state leaders as we encourage development of new housing stock in town centers close to transportation services. Transit-oriented development is a central strategy of our Regional Plan to address Tahoe’s “missing middle” housing dilemma.

We also can’t forget that tourism represents a $5 billion annual economy for Lake Tahoe. The reality is that as visitation numbers swell, transportation infrastructure is being pushed to the breaking point.

We must continue to look for creative solutions, new ways to get visitors out from behind the wheels of their cars. I dream of a day when we can take a leisurely drive to Emerald Bay and relish the views. Not today’s reality with the jumbled mess of parked cars on the edge of the road and the throngs of pedestrians precariously straddling the highway’s center line. There’s a new Emerald Bay corridor study underway to drive us toward this vision. Improved shuttles, parking reservations, and other strategies are being examined.

This fall, TRPA will mark 50 years since our Bi-State compact was signed into law, creating TRPA. For five decades, we have worked to protect Lake Tahoe. We’ve seen success and failure along the path. We have learned from our achievements, and we have vowed not to repeat our mistakes. It’s an amazing accomplishment that we’ve maintained the partnership between the states of California and Nevada, the federal government, local jurisdictions, and the entire community in the service of the lake.

As the sun set on another Tahoe Summit, we remain committed to pursue the vision expressed in the Bi-State Compact and deliver results through partnerships and epic collaboration as we adapt to the new challenges we face.


Joanne S. Marchetta is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.