Renewing Lake Tahoe Partnership Increases Protections

By Joanne S. Marchetta

When California and Nevada work together, Lake Tahoe wins. The California legislature’s recent passage of Senate Bill 630 has renewed a nearly 45-year-old commitment to the collaborative management of one of America’s most treasured—and controversial—natural wonders.

I mention controversial because in the history of the Bi-State Tahoe Regional Planning Compact, decisions about how to manage Lake Tahoe have always been made in a crucible of public debate. The often dissonant discourse is embedded in the governance of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), created by the Compact in 1969, and from it has emerged significant environmental success.

The partnership creating TRPA helped stop runaway growth, initiated the nation’s first prohibition on carbureted two stroke boat engines, and spurred a forest fuel management program that effectively reduced fuels (and with it the risk of catastrophic wildfire) on more than 50,000 acres of forest and private land in and around Tahoe communities.

California’s recently enacted legislation, which mirrors a law passed in Nevada in June, renews this partnership by confirming California’s support for the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan that was adopted at the end of last year. The plan had not undergone a significant update in almost 25 years and the process to update the regulatory framework served as an important catalyst for opening dialogue between the two states. A robust bi-state consultation process resulted in significantly increased environmental protections in the Regional Plan without increasing the amount of development allowed in the Tahoe Basin.

Recently, vestiges of the debate about the Regional Plan have resurfaced from a small enclave of local activists who filed suit over the Regional Plan. The groups, operating under the good name of the Sierra Club, consistently mischaracterize the Regional Plan and the renewed bi-state partnership. I encourage everyone who cares about the future of Lake Tahoe to look closer at the facts of the Regional Plan. We know from a decade of science that the status quo is hurting the environment. Doing nothing at Tahoe means we lose the lake and our communities.

While maintaining the strict growth controls that have been in effect for well over two decades, the new plan promotes the removal of development from sensitive lands by providing incentives for restoration to open space. By relocating some buildings from marshes and meadows into town centers, the plan is projected to eliminate 10,000 vehicle miles traveled annually and an additional 1,200 parcels are expected to be protected or restored.

The new plan cuts the maximum allotment of new residences at Tahoe by more than 50 percent from 300 per year to 130. In fact, the transportation element is projected to decrease per capita emissions in Lake Tahoe 7 percent by 2035 and was one of the first transportation plans to exceed California SB 375 emission reduction standards.

The crucible of TRPA has been a way to bring the many perspectives on Lake Tahoe together to make environmental improvements on a regional scale. With the recommitment of Nevada and California to the bi-state partnership, TRPA will continue to iron out differences for the protection of Lake Tahoe for all.

COLUMN-Renewing Lake Tahoe Partnership Increases Protections, September 2013