By Julie Regan

What a difference a year makes. This time last winter, many of us delighted in a promising snowpack, unaware that we were facing what would become the heaviest winter in more than 70 years. It was a tough one, even for some of us who survived the 1997 rain-on-snow disastrous winter. We got through it together, and 2023 had many bright spots with real progress for Lake Tahoe and our communities.

Regardless of the unknowns for 2024, maintaining collaboration and partnership will be critical for us to continue making major strides in water quality, climate resilience, community revitalization, and ultimately, Lake Tahoe’s restoration and protection. Simply put, we do better when we work together, and the stakes couldn’t be higher right now.

With temperatures rising globally and locally, the urgency around climate change cannot be understated. What may seem like a small shift – a few degrees in temperature – is consequential. Think about temperature change in the human body. A one-degree rise in body temperature can lead to a fever. Five degrees can land you in the hospital with your body shutting down. Over the past 100 years, Lake Tahoe’s daily minimum air temperature has risen 4.3 degrees. Just since 1970, the lake itself has risen 1.4 degrees and researchers are saying the lake is warming faster and faster.

Those few degrees are causing across-the-board impacts to this fragile ecosystem—water quality, aquatic invasive species, forest health and wildfire, a changing snowpack, and more extreme weather events. Tahoe has a fever.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and our partners must continue leading on climate resilience work. We’re updating our regulations to be more climate smart and leading an initiative to deliver more Environmental Improvement Program projects faster and more effectively. We are also supporting the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team in treating 11,000 more acres in the Wildland Urban Interface by 2025, which will complete a key phase of priority treatments.

Along with our work on the ground, we are holding more community conversations. In addition to my series of Tahoe Talks last year, TRPA is co-sponsoring a special event featuring renowned climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe January 23rd in Incline Village with UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UNR Tahoe, and Operation Sierra Storm. Drawing on her expertise as chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy and lead author of multiple National Climate Assessments, Dr. Hayhoe encourages climate conversations like these to build hope and healing to help fight climate change. She will also present at Lake Tahoe Community College later that day. Register for free here.

We’ve learned over the years that at Tahoe, the lake, economy, and community’s quality of life are intertwined in what’s called the triple-bottom-line. This is most apparent in our progress on affordable and workforce housing. TRPA’s Governing Board stood up for locals with an important vote in December adopting policy changes to lower the cost for builders and private property owners to create more deed-restricted workforce housing. On top of earlier policy changes that created incentives for accessory dwelling units, our dedicated housing planners are expanding their work this year to integrate housing, equity, and climate goals into land use and water quality programs.

Lake Tahoe and resort communities across the nation are finding innovative solutions to deep-rooted affordable housing challenges. TRPA and our partners are supporting local workers by addressing fundamental imbalances in the basin. Over the next few years, we will be working with communities to advance housing options, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and establish long-term, two-way community engagement with a particular focus on disadvantaged and historically underrepresented communities.

In a region as diverse as ours, progress comes through partnerships. And everyone has a role to play. From taking micro transit or biking, to reducing plastic use and joining litter cleanups, to private property owners installing water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) and creating fire defensible space, it is up to every one of us to ensure Lake Tahoe is sustainable, healthy, and safe for the community and generations to come. I hope you join us in coming together to make 2024 a year of incredible progress for Lake Tahoe.

Julie Regan is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.