Tahoe Summit: Progress, But New Challenges

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LAKE TAHOE - When then-President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore came to Tahoe for the very first summit in 1997, they brought with them the attention of the nation.

And with the signing of the first Tahoe Restoration Act came the commitment of the federal dollars to the task of preserving the lake.

The overriding issue back then was the lake's famous clarity, which had declined by about half in less than four decades.

There's been a turnaround on that issue since then. But as the world around it changes, so do the threats Tahoe is facing.

Senator Harry Reid listed them to an audience of several hundred at this year's Tahoe Summit Tuesday at the Tallac Historic Site in South Lake Tahoe.

"Drought, wildfire, invasive species.. They're ruining our country and they are really trying to damage this lake."

Those issues were the focus of this year's summit. Lurking behind them all perhaps is a changing climate.

"Invasive species have certainly been encouraged by things like warmer water temperatures," says Dr. Geoffrey Schladow, Director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

And while it may be too soon to blame the current drought on climate change, "theorists would say more extreme droughts are in our future and we should take that into account in our planning."

But there's one challenge Tahoe's facing that can't be studied in the wild or the lab.

"The challenges are always the resources," says Dr. Schladow, noting that at the moment the state and federal coffers from which those resources must flow are hardly overflowing.

That's why every summit features a full lineup of elected officials.
And those in Washington have a new assignment: a new Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, once again committing federal resources to the lake's future.

Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei has taken the assignment of pushing it through the House and despite Congressional gridlock, he sounds optimistic.

"There's such fatigue with this uber-political culture," he says. "We're ripe for stuff that we can agree on; at least the low-hanging fruit is stuff we ought to be able to move."

Senator Dean Heller of Nevada agrees. "I have no doubt that this lake can draw Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, vegetarians to one common cause."

Maybe so.

With increasing population and a changing climate, Lake Tahoe will likely need the attention and resources of both states and the federal government, efforts that will be tracked by future Tahoe Summits.