Federal funding, climate-change talks on tap

Efforts to restore Lake Tahoe's famed clarity will be a topic of discussion at Monday's summit.

Efforts to restore Lake Tahoe's famed clarity will be a topic of discussion at Monday's summit.

Former Vice President Al Gore, the driving force behind the 2006 environmental film “An Inconvenient Truth,” will deliver the keynote speech at the 17th annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Monday.

The summit is hosted by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Also attending are Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

At the first summit, in 1997, Gore and President Bill Clinton unveiled a sweeping plan to protect Lake Tahoe, and the resulting Environmental Improvement Program forged an unprecedented public/private partnership that has led to nearly $1.7 billion in investments here since.

Clinton later authorized the $415 million Lake Tahoe Restoration Act to aid efforts to restore the lake’s steadily declining water clarity, and to reduce the risk of fire by thinning forests of dangerous fuels such as shrubs and dead trees.

An updated version of the act was brought onto the Senate floor Aug. 1, sponsored by Feinstein, Reid, U.S. Sen Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The legislation would authorize $243 million over 10 years for the highest-priority restoration projects at the lake, based on scientific data.

“When Gore was here in ’97, that really kicked off the EIP,” said Amy Berry, whose nonprofit Tahoe Fund is sponsoring Monday’s summit. “Since that time, thanks to incredible support from the feds and the two states, there has been a tremendous amount of progress in terms of environmental improvement projects on the ground.”

Many Tahoe stakeholders hope Gore’s return will help usher in a “renewed commitment to funding the environmental improvement program for years to come,” Berry said.

That commitment could be key, considering findings published last week in UC Davis’ annual State of the Lake report.

In the report, while scientists point to Lake Tahoe’s clarity improving for the second consecutive year in 2012, trends suggest climate change is continuing to affect the lake. In 2012, the lake’s average surface water temperature of 52.8 degrees was the warmest on record.

The science community is pointing to the report as a reminder that while progress has been made since 1997 to protect Tahoe, much work remains.

“While clarity is improving in the offshore this year, things are not as positive on the nearshore, which is where most of the public engages the lake,” said Sudeep Chandra, University of Nevada, Reno, researcher and longtime limnologist at Lake Tahoe, in a Wednesday statement.

Monday’s summit also comes amid legal challenges to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Regional Plan Update, which sets guidelines for development for the next 20 years for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore sued the Regional Plan Update this year.

Monday’s summit figures to have one of its largest crowds ever. As of midday Wednesday, nearly 800 residents and officials had registered to attend, Berry said, about twice as many as in 2012.


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