Restoring Clarity To Lake Tahoe

Extensive shoreline development stalled by court victory

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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.

Jessica is a former award-winning journalist. She enjoys wild places and dispensing justice, so she considers her job here to be a pretty amazing fit.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.