By Julie W. Regan
The moment I first crested Echo Summit three decades ago, I was holding my breath like I’d reached the top of the climb of a roller coaster. The expanse of deep blue that spread out before me seemed like a dream, lofted above the earth, and cupped by forested mountains. As Mark Twain put it, I felt I was taking in the air that angels breathe.
As we descended into the Tahoe Basin, I was awestruck. Little did I know this would be one of the most significant moments of my life. My passion for protecting and restoring this incredible place has grown exponentially over the years, and last month I was beyond honored to become the new executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA).
I have committed most of my career working for this unique agency helping keep Lake Tahoe on the forefront of environmental restoration. I am passionate about continuing Tahoe’s conservation success story and leading this epic collaboration into the future. I remain as committed as ever to helping achieve the triple bottom line where the lake, the community, and the economy all together win.
Since TRPA’s 2012 Regional Plan Update, steady progress has been made, but we have much more to do. From climate change to the housing crisis, we’re facing existential threats to our sense of community and the environment that is central to our way of life.
As we look back at the 10-year milestone of TRPA’s Regional Plan Update, it’s important to note that partnership and collaboration have driven results and we can build on that progress. The updated plan has helped catalyze $430 million in commercial and tourist accommodation improvements. Those projects have delivered water quality, scenic, and transportation improvements as well, and in some cases have secured additional workforce housing.
In that same decade, Environmental Improvement Program partners have invested $910 million in more than 300 additional projects. Among them are 40 miles of new bikeways, certification of 4,500 properties for water quality best management practices, and restoration work on 270 acres of stream environment zones that are integral to lake clarity. Since the program began in 1997, forest and fire agencies have completed initial forest resilience projects on 89,000 acres in and around Lake Tahoe communities, some of which assisted firefighters in protecting homes during the Caldor Fire.
We have worked to improve how TRPA operates and continue to honor the bi-state compact that drives the agency’s mission by strengthening partnerships, gaining a shared vision in the region, and focusing on where we can make the greatest impact for Tahoe. And the work has started paying off. Researchers and state partners have reported the region achieved a 23 percent reduction in fine sediment particles basinwide, surpassing the 10-year goal. However, the warming climate is compounding impacts to Tahoe’s water clarity and increasing the threats that catastrophic wildfire and aquatic invasive species pose to our communities and fragile ecosystem.
In the next decade, we must accelerate the progress. Relying on science to guide us, we will do more to address climate change, modernize land use policies, invest in transportation solutions, and revitalize town centers to create more walkable and bikeable communities. We will work to level the field for affordable housing in the region and build new destination stewardship partnerships to better manage recreation and tourism and meet triple-bottom-line goals.
Lake Tahoe is also part of the ancestral home of the Washoe for whom the basin’s significance runs as deep as the lake itself. I am inspired by how the Washoe took care of this land for millennia and am committed to pass that ethic on to future generations.
I especially look forward to leading the incredible staff we have at TRPA and working with our Advisory Planning Commission and Governing Board on the agency’s strategic initiatives. My work to accelerate progress will also honor the contributions of all leaders who have come before me. I am committed to expanding partnerships and erasing imaginary divides between all who love the lake.
With our beloved Tahoe landscape blanketed in glistening snow, I am hopeful and energized about our future. Please join me in our collective quest to fight for the Tahoe we know and love. We’re all here for the lake.
–Julie W. Regan is the new Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency