BY ROGER PATCHING

There’s a serious problem at Lake Tahoe. It is so serious that it has prompted all eight of Tahoe’s leading environmental nonprofit organizations to jointly write a “sign-on” letter of warning (the Friends of Lake Tahoe, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, Friends of the West Shore, the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, both chapters of the Sierra Club at Tahoe, the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance, and the Nevada Conservation League):

To the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency:

Lake Tahoe, the jewel of the Sierra, is the largest and purest sub-alpine lake in North America. Its clarity has impressed visitors since the 1800s, and it is imperative that we protect and restore this unique, international treasure so the tranquility and serenity of this natural resource can be enjoyed by generations to come.

The multiple impacts of the Comstock era of logging and deforestation, the rapacious devastation wrought by the gold fever of the mining era, and the pressures that accompanied the 1960 Olympics combined over time to degrade the lake and region. As early as the 1950s, scientific studies were showing a decline in lake clarity. It was apparent that the area needed regional planning. With the establishment of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in 1969, the previously unrestricted urbanization of the region was slowed and environmental standards to preserve the lake were enacted.

Those environmental standards are now threatened. It appears to us that the agency is reversing many of the crucial regulations mandated by the Tahoe Regional Compact. We urge the TRPA Board to exercise prudence and do everything in its power to uphold, achieve, and maintain the environmental thresholds it is charged to enforce.

It is our belief and concern that the proposed Regional Plan will neither restore nor protect the lake. Instead, it will open the floodgates one more time to rampant growth and high-density urbanization, thereby making more thresholds impossible to attain. These consequences would not be consistent with a proud legacy we know the members of TRPA’s board desire.

As current and former elected officials, concerned residents, business owners, and local interests groups, we understand the economic pressures facing the region, but also understand that whatever positive outcomes we may wish for the region are dependent on the health of the lake and its surrounding watersheds. As one of the few areas congressionally designated by the Clean Water Act as an Outstanding National Resource Water, it is essential that we ensure that the Regional Plan Update protects Lake Tahoe.

We therefore urge you to join us in actively pursuing a Regional Plan that protects Lake Tahoe.

To sign-on to this letter, simply send your name(s), title/affiliation (if applicable), and city of residence to protecttahoe@gmail.com.  
The Regional Plan will shape Tahoe for decades and has recently been made public for a 60-day review.  Tahoe’s nonprofits are furiously plowing through thousands of pages.  Pleas for more time have been ignored.  

The Plan promises sustainability, but will result in the urban sprawl and environmental damage that TRPA was created to halt.  As stated by Senator Darrell Steinberg, California’s President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in a February 15 letter chastising Nevada State Senator John Lee, “It is both surprising and disappointing to see a national treasure as important as Lake Tahoe become a political hostage to the agenda of special interest groups. . .”  Lee authored Nevada’s SB271 which calls for its withdrawal from TRPA’s Bi-State Compact unless California complies with Nevada’s demands regarding Tahoe.  Steinberg’s letter correctly refers to SB271 as “both unnecessarily inflammatory and deeply counter-productive. . .”

As it currently stands, there is little reason for optimism regarding the protection of Lake Tahoe from runaway high-density development.

~ Roger Patching, a retired political science professor, is president/CEO of Friends of Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at roger@friendsoflaketahoe.org.