NTPAC About NTPA Contact NTPA NTPA Board Members Donate to NTPA NTPA Petition Take action North Tahoe Preservation Alliance

Guest column: It's time to work together for the lake

By Joanne Marchetta
Special to the Bonanza

LAKE TAHOE — If John Muir had spent as much time here as in Yosemite, Lake Tahoe might be a national park today. You would not live here and neither would I. None of us would. There might be no ring of state highways surrounding the lake. There might be no lakefront homes or piers. The 1960 Winter Olympics probably would not have occurred here, and neither would the development that followed. Lake clarity might still be 100 feet or more.

But Lake Tahoe is not a designated national park, and so here we are. We have two states, five counties and one incorporated city touching the basin. There is forest service, conservancy, state park and private land here — some developed, some not, some damaged, some pristine. We have 65,000 year-round residents and 3 million visitors a year.

Our communities and businesses are challenged with an evolving and declining economy, declining school enrollment, homes and buildings located in sensitive stream environment zones, deteriorating buildings in the more developed cores, a lack of affordable housing and other challenges.

My job is to deal with what is, not with past fantasy. And my job is to lead an agency that is not just a regulatory agency but also a regional planning agency. Our responsibility is to improve the environment at Lake Tahoe by taking positive actions that benefit the Lake.

With TRPA’s leadership, we have spent $1 billion on environmental quality improvements in the basin over the past decade. Science tells us that we still need another $1.5 billion in capital investment to achieve the lake clarity challenge of 80 feet — taking us on the path to the water clarity threshold standard of 100 feet. This same research shows us that preserving the status quo will not achieve the environmental gain we need. Basically, doing nothing is not a viable option.

So how do we move forward? There is disagreement about how to protect this special place. There is especially disagreement about the need for and type of redevelopment. When we disagree, often nothing happens, and it is often the lake that suffers most when we do nothing. Only careful, positive action will achieve the needed gains.

I am here to say that the time has come for us to find our areas of agreement and take advantage of them in deciding what actions are needed for the region.

The Tahoe Basin is at a crossroads. We will either be remembered as the people who tried to restore this lake and failed because we couldn’t agree — or as those who were successful because we put our differences aside and became dedicated to a cause larger than ourselves and our narrow interests.

This year marks the TRPA’s 40th anniversary — and before there was a TRPA there were plans to build a city the size of San Francisco here along with a bridge across Emerald Bay. Because of TRPA and our allies, that didn’t happen. We consider this — what didn’t happen — to be a landmark accomplishment.

Much of the development that did occur during the 1950s, 60s and 70s however was environmentally damaging. This is why in the late 1990s we launched the Environmental Improvement Program. With more than $1 billion invested in the Tahoe region by the state, federal and local governments as well as the private sector, we may have finally turned a corner toward reversing the lake’s decline.

And so our successes are in what was never built, and what we have been able to redevelop and restore.

To continue building on these successes will require that TRPA be a leader and an innovator moving forward, just as we were groundbreakers 40 years ago.

We know the pollutants affecting the lake originate in the existing built areas, so we will continue to use redevelopment as one tool to leverage environmental net gains. Private investment in Tahoe can help the lake.

We will also continue to restore marshes, creeks and river banks. We will better manage boating activities on the lake. And in the spirit of John Muir, we will continue to invite people into the outdoor spaces so they can enjoy firsthand what is at stake. Improving recreation is one of our legal mandates.

I invite and welcome the participation of and suggestions from any person or any organization that wishes to work with me and TRPA. I will challenge efforts to divide in a world that is increasingly seeking paths to unity. Division and the use of polarizing rhetoric is a bankrupt tactic. Our energy is best spent on behalf of the lake.

I invite honest, productive, genuine discourse. Let’s work at understanding one another’s points of view, rely on accurate information, have productive debate, and offer realistic solutions. We have a lot of work to do together. Now let’s get to it.

Joanne Marchetta is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. For more information, visit www.trpa.org.