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Restoring Clarity To Lake Tahoe

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
15 December 2010, 4:37 PM
Extensive shoreline development stalled by court victory
Lake Tahoe photo courtesy EPA

As a child, Earthjustice client Michael Donahoe spent many early mornings waterskiing along the west shore of Lake Tahoe. The lake was so clear that he could see a hundred feet down into its depths.

"It was a glassy, beautiful, blue lake," said Donahoe. "The boulders that were down there, it looked like you could reach out and touch them."

Today, Lake Tahoe's famed clarity has been clouded by increased human activity and urban development that has degraded the lake's air and water quality. Though the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's duty is to protect and restore the lake, it has instead acquiesced to private developers by downplaying existing regulations.

"The Tahoe Regional Planning Compact explicitly mandates that the agency must achieve and maintain environmental standards, known as 'thresholds,' such as restoration of former clarity levels" said Earthjustice attorney Wendy Park. "But rather than restore the lake, the agency is taking a step backwards by allowing vast new development within the Tahoe basin."

Earthjustice, along with its clients, the League to Save Lake Tahoe and Sierra Club, recently reminded the agency of its duties through a legal victory that blocked the agency's plan to allow the construction of 138 piers and the placement of several thousand buoys in Lake Tahoe's shorezone. Earthjustice filed suit against the agency for failing to conduct a proper environmental review of the agency's shoreline development plan, which would limit the public's access to the shore and further degrade water quality.

"The judge very clearly came out and said that the agency's role is to both achieve the environmental standards that have been established and maintain them," said Donahoe. "He made it clear that the agency has to get back to basics and do what it was set up to do, restore and protect the lake, not just simply avoid doing further harm to it. That's so core. That's a game changer."

The judge's landmark decision is expected to affect all future development plans at Lake Tahoe, helping to keep the lake blue for water-skiers and others for generations to come.

I lived and worked in Lake Tahoe for many years and I raised my children there. l consider the Tahoe Basin my home. I am also a Natural Resource Management major at the university and I spent 26 years in gaming management. I have studied the Tahoe Basin ecosystem extensively, and it is quite clear that the Basin needs less development and more conservation if it is to recover from the obvious excesses of greed, as evidenced by the multitude of unoccupied homes in the Tahoe Basin.
One of the main causes of the Lake's diminishing clarity is the rampant economic development; complete with all those lovely lawns, whose owners dutifully fertilize each short growing season. Fertilizers that get washed into the Lake, with the full knowledge of those who feel "entitled" to their destructive landscaping. I am fully aware that so-called "development" interests could care less about the clarity of the Lake; only their immediate financial returns garner their "loving attention". Unless you are a shill for the developers, you would know this. That's what lawyers and judges are for: to keep everyone honest. That's a very big task, considering the characters that want to turn Lake Tahoe into a playground for the rich and careless.

Tahoe is the most beautiful spot in the world. I hope we will always remain vigilant and keep it as unspoiled as is possible.

I live 2 blocks off the north shore of Lake Tahoe and I'm well aware of TRPA and the decision concerning more piers and bouys. However, I also work as a volunteer with UC Davis and the Tahoe Environmental Research Center. Thanks to ongoing research and efforts by TRPA and other organizations, the clarity of the lake has remained at 70 feet for several years now. Also, TRPA has new board members with a healthy attitiude toward development and the need to protect the lake and its 314 sq. miles of watershed shared by both California and Nevada.

Unfortunately, too many organizations such as the League to Save Lake Tahoe and Sierra Club have their own agendas aiming to stop all development. If Lake Tahoe was a national park, that may be realistic. But, as a center for geotourism, we are addressing more practical issues that impact environment, community, and commerce. For the 3 million annual visitors and the 70,000 people who live and work here. we need a larger vision. Sustainability is the key, as indicated by a plan adobted by both states. Keeping piers and bouys off the lake doesn't address the larger issue of mobility. Since 65% of polutants entering the lake come from the air, namely car exhause, we need to get people out of their cars. We know that something can be done to solve this problem. I doubt that your lawyers and judges have a viable solution!

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