The theme of the 26th Annual Lake Tahoe Summit, which was held Tuesday, August 16, 2022, at Sand Harbor, was titled “Protecting Lake Tahoe’s Future.”
Organizers stated that the annual summit provides a chance to address the progress made to restore the Tahoe Basin over the past two decades, discuss current challenges the nearby communities continue to face, and look to future preservation possibilities.
Dr. Charles R. Goldman was honored with the Dianne Feinstein Lake Tahoe Award, the second awarded of its kind.
The award, which was presented to Senator Feinstein during last year’s summit, honors “exemplary leaders with a proven track record of several decades of work to improve Lake Tahoe’s clarity, natural beauty, and overall environmental health.”
Dr. Goldman is “known globally as the Godfather of Limnology (the study of lakes)” and was one of the first to notice a decrease in Lake Tahoe’s clarity more than half a century ago, according to Dr. Darcie Goodman, CEO of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, who helped present the award.
“His findings caused him to sound an alarm to the threats on the lake which started a unique marriage between science and environmental protection of Tahoe,” said Dr. Goodman. “His work has been invaluable. Without him, Lake Tahoe wouldn’t have the beautiful, crystal clear water it has now.”
Dr. Goldman stated he was humbled and honored by the award, but that his students were his real legacy. When he asked if any of his former students were in the audience, several hands shot up.
“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award after the privilege of being able to study and help promote conservation at Lake Tahoe for over 60 years, and I owe the fact that I’m still here and talking to a really good wife,” said Dr. Goldman. “When you consider there are five counties in two states and a large number of federal state agencies involved, it’s amazing that we could all come together to achieve what we have at this point.”
Many speakers discussed the importance of returning clarity depth to the lake, which has steadily decreased in clarity for years. However, during the last 20 years, the depth has experienced a plateau, but efforts are being undertaken to remove sediment and decrease algae levels.
In 2021 alone, pollution from sediment within Lake Tahoe was reduced by 600,000 pounds — equal to the mass of over 200 cars, according to a joint Nevada-California report.
“Efforts to reduce pollution and restore Lake Tahoe’s world-famous water clarity remain on track, despite impacts from climate change and other factors,” said Matthew McDaniel, Public Information Officer of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
In addition to sediment, both nitrogen and phosphorus, which contribute to algae growth, have also been reduced by thousands of pounds per year.
Currently, the latest lake clarity level was measured at 61 feet. The best clarity measurement occurred in 1968 at 102.4 feet. The worst occurred in 2017 at 59.7 feet.
“Our program’s efforts have become even more critical as Lake Tahoe faces other water clarity challenges from wildfire, smoke, and climate change,” said Mike Plaziak, Lahontan Water Board’s Executive Officer. “Going forward, restoring lake clarity will require us to continue our close coordination and implementation of best practices at every level, from how we maintain roads to how we gather data and adapt our strategies to manage climate impacts.”
Many speakers, from local and state leaders, forest service agency representatives, teachers and more lent their perspectives on preservation efforts important to Tahoe conservation.
U.S. Senator for Nevada Jacky Rosen was the “hostess” for the event. Senator Rosen stated that since the summit’s beginning, it has been critical in determining how the lake is protected for generations to come.
“Since 1997, this summit has been critical in advancing the conversation on how we protect our beloved National Treasure, Lake Tahoe,” said Rosen. “We’ve created a partnership between Nevada and California, a partnership committed to meeting the needs of this unique place.”
Many of the speakers focused on the threat of wildfire and increasing the lake’s clarity.
The keynote address was delivered by White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
McCarthy previously served as President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Obama administration, before taking on her new position within the Biden administration.
McCarthy spoke on the importance of collaboration and uniting in the fight for Tahoe. “Back in ‘97, that was when the first summit actually began,” said McCarthy. “That’s when people really began to realize that the lake had been challenged and that the challenges were continuing to grow. They faced a choice on whether to stand around and watch it get worse, or to take some clear and decisive action.”
“People knew there was a great deal at stake, and they came together to fight for it,” continued McCarthy. “That’s what our communities are all about. That’s what defines the United States of America: We get our act together and move forward.”
McCarthy then turned to nationwide environmental achievements, including the fact that while she was speaking at the summit, President Biden was signing into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $369 billion in climate investments.
“This is going to change things,” said McCarthy.
Included in the act were climate provisions such as proivding 950 million more solar panels across the country, 120,00 wind turbines, and 23,000 grid-scale battery plants by 2030.
“This is about rebuilding our country again,” said McCarthy. “We can work together as a country. Hope springs eternal, and it will move mountains.”
Representatives from the Washoe Tribe were honored at the beginning of the meeting, with Washoe Elder Dinah Pete providing the invocation.
Washoe Tribe Chairman Serrell Smokey spoke on the importance of the lake to the Washoe people. The name “Tahoe” is actually a mispronunciation of the Washoe word dáɁaw. The lake holds the utmost importance to the tribe as both the spiritual and geographical center of the Washoe world.
“We’ve come a long way through history to be here,” said Smokey. “We wouldn’t be here without our lake. It is the heart and soul of the Washoe People. You being there today shows me that you all care for the lake as much as us Washoe People. You have it in your heart. I hope that we all continue to work together, protecting these sacred lands that have given us life throughout all these years.”
Taking a different perspective on climate issues facing the area, Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of California stated the forests need to be opened to lumber harvesting.
“If we’re to protect the Tahoe Basin from the destruction that has been visited upon so many other communities within the other Sierra Communities, we must be clear-eyed and clear-headed,” said McClintock. “Excess lumber will always come out of a forest. Either we will carry it out, or nature will burn it out. That’s the only choice.”
McClintock continued, stating that private forests are better managed than public forest land, and that “Private forests are conspicuously healthier and far more resistant to catastrophic fires than our public lands,” said McClintock. “These companies maintain their forests in excellent conditions year in and year out while they generate the revenue to do so.”
McClintock stated that public foresters are “handcuffed” by “stifling environmental protection laws and lawsuits” which makes forest management cost prohibitive.
“It’s a forest management issue,” said McClintock. This problem is not going to go away, even if we all ride our bikes to work or substitute out tofu for hamburgers.”
Republican Congressman Mark Amodei of Nevada shared that he once worked at the state park the summit was held at, “scrubbing toilets” and disposing of waste.
“Let me tell you, the toilets at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park were never cleaner than when I was cleaning them,” joked Amodei. “Maybe I shoulda stuck with that.”
Amodei spoke on the importance of fuels management, regardless of what is happening in the climate.
“The wind in Nevada starts in California,” said Amodei. “When we talk about fuels management, when we talk about the initial response, it’s like, ‘the Californians need more help; if you don’t think so, ask someone who lives in Nevada.’ I just want to say, as we tackle these challenges: fuels management. Those folks need a chance when [a fire] starts happening. Especially if it’s dry. When we talk about responsible resource management, it starts with fuels management.”
Amodei stated that reducing forest fires will also help with water clarity at the lake.
“It does make it a little harder to keep the water clear if you’ve got thousands of acres that have just been moonscaped,” said Amodei. “We all have a short window in terms of this resource, and what you can say for your stewardship on what this was.”
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak spoke on the importance of taking action against climate change now, and not putting that action off for future generations.
“Climate change is impacting the Tahoe Basin, and we need to take action to protect these treasures,” said Sisolak. “Not in ten years, but today. Climate change is impacting the basin and will continue to – Nevada remains committed to protecting the long-term sustainable health of Lake Tahoe.”
Sisolak also thanked the Washoe Tribe representatives and the Lake Tahoe Fund for being at the summit, along with their ongoing efforts of preservation.
“I’d like to thank the Lake Tahoe fund that fights every day to make this lake what it is and to preserve the quality,” said Sisolak. “As well as the Washoe Tribe, who were originally at this lake and had this land.”
Nevada State Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto stated that being able to form partnerships is crucial to the conservation of the lake.
“We can all come together on common ground and make a positive difference,” said Cortez-Masto. “This is what it’s really about.”
Cortez-Masto went on to say that without the partnership formed between California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the conservation of the lake would not be what it is today.
“This partnership is crucial,” said Cortez-Masto. “I cannot not mention Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid, both of whom are the reason we are here. Years ago they came together to really focus on how this partnership was crucial between California and Nevada across party lines – it’s how we work together. And that partnership is ongoing today.”
Cortez-Masto thanked the Washoe Tribe for sharing the lake, as well as wildland firefighters for protecting the surrounding forests and informing leaders of what needs to take place to continue conservation efforts.
“If you are living here, and you are breathing the air and walking outside, you’re seeing firsthand the extent of the extreme weather that is happening in the west,” said Cortez-Masto. “That’s why it is important as we work in Washington, we are working with all of you and bringing all of your voices back there to get things done.”
California Senator Alex Padilla, who hosted last year’s summit, discussed combating not only the climate crisis in general but by also focusing on specific goals at the lake level such as creating urban stormwater treatments and fighting against invasive species.
“In the last couple of months we have witnessed an unprecedented heat wave in the region, across the country, and around the world,” said Padilla. “In today’s ongoing drought in the western United States, it actually marks the driest 22-year stretch in more than 1,200 years. Yes, climate change is real. Yes, climate change is happening, and we must double down on our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”
Some of the efforts Padilla noted were senate passed water resources development act of 2022, which includes specific provisions for Lake Tahoe, including provisions to authorize the planning, design, and construction of urban stormwater treatment facilities in Lake Tahoe.
In addition, Padilla stated there would be $269,000 going towards Lake Tahoe Community College to support their training program for the next generation of forestry students through the Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy, and thanks to the Tahoe Fund, there will be scholarships offered for that program as well.
“We’re just getting started,” said Padilla. “As we look ahead to the next decade, we know that we need to continue coordinated investments to address the intensifying threat of climate change. We need to build successful programs addressing invasive species, forest die-off, and water clarity.”
Padilla stated that $3.4 million dollars in funding was awarded from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to help combat the spread of aquatic invasive species in Lake Tahoe through education programs regarding invasive species, permanent inspection locations, and more.
One thing that all speakers agreed on was that partnership was imperative to the continuation of Lake Tahoe’s conservation.
“Across the board, protecting Lake Tahoe’s future requires dedicated people in place to act,” said Rosen. “And we have to support that dedication.”
Kelsey Penrose grew up in Carson City, Nevada is an alumna of Arizona State University, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Creative Writing with Sierra Nevada University. She lives and gardens in Washoe Valley. Support Kelsey’s work for the Sierra Nevada Ally here.
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