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The Lake Tahoe Basin is one of the most beautiful and majestic natural lakes in all California, if not the United States. Its ecosystem has been suffering as a result of our modern ways. Human development in the area has caused a number of problems in the health of the forests, and air quality. These elements have contributed, in addition to other pollutants, to the now diminishing clarity and cleanliness of the lake itself. Environmental awareness, however, has made environmental issues more prominent in the political arena. In recent years, the number of State and Federal funded programs protecting the environment, have significantly increased. In the pages that follow, we
will be looking at the importance of maintaining a balanced and healthy ecosystem, and
how the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was created to carry out the necessary actions
to do so.
Somehow, through the progression of time, the human species surpassed all of the other animals in the wild. We reached the point of the agricultural revolution, which took place in the Fertile Crescent. It was there that our ancestors cultivated the land, and planted a monoculture in the soil. They did not know back then it would result in draining the soil of nutrients, caused by cultivating a monoculture in place of the natural polyculture. Eventually, the crop would fail, the soil would be unable to nurture growing vegetation, and the farmers would move on. The land would remain destitute and useless to farmers.
Two hundred years ago, the industrial revolution took place. Modern civilization
had truly begun. Large cities became even larger. Factories were more common, and
more efficient, as a result of modern machinery. The smoke began billowing from factory smokestacks, the problem with pollution had only begun. In the early twentieth
century, the motor vehicle became quite popular in the United States. Since then cars
have become more affordable, and are owned and used by a majority of the population.
Our technological advancements have made our standard of living increase.
However, the results of these changes has caused a decrease in the respect we give to
nature. My point in recounting the major stages of development is to point out that
modern society flourished, and as a result we failed to recognize the place in nature from which we came. The reason Lake Tahoe is so important is that action has been taken to save this powerful expression of nature.
Lake Tahoe is located about four hours east of San Francisco. The Lake itself sits on the border between Nevada and California. The area was first discovered by the
Washoe Indians. They named the Lake Da-ow-a-ga, which translates to edge of the
lake. Early explorers, unaccustomed to the Native American dialect, interpreted this
name as Tahoe. When John Freemont came through the area he renamed it Mountain
Lake. It was also called Lake Bigler for a while. Then, in 1945, William Henry
Knight, with the consultation of Dr. Henry Degroot, renamed it Lake Tahoe, believing
it meant big water, or high water in the Native Washoe Indian
In the early 1860 s Pioneers came to the area in search of silver. They traveled on
Bonanza Road, now known as Highway 50. It was at this time that the ecological
damage to the Lake Tahoe Basin began. The settlers began logging the forests
extensively for mining purposes, as well as development. The cutting down of trees
continued until there remained no choice but to stop, as a result of overharvesting
In the early 1900 s word had reached the wealthy families of San Francisco. They were now aware of nature s paradise, located so close to the city. This became their vacation retreat. The popularity of the Lake resulted in the development of hotel casinos. Harvey s Wagon Wheel and Gambling Hall opened in 1944. In the 1950 s competition grew. The snow-covered mountain tops were transformed into ski resorts
From that time until the present the popularity of the area has only increased. For example, in 1960, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Squaw Valley (www.tahoeinfo.htm). This event gave Lake Tahoe worldwide recognition. People come from all over the world to see the overwhelming natural phenomenon for themselves. Closing it off from human use would be the most beneficial situation to save the Lake and its surroundings, but that would not be in accordance with the modern mentality. As a result of recognizing that Lake Tahoe needed its very own guardian angel from the perils of modern civilization, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was created.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Compact was amended on December 19, 1980.
This bistate compact, between Nevada and California, required that a Environmental
Threshold Carrying Capacities to determine what the problem areas were, and how to go
about setting standards for regulation. The compact determined that Lake Tahoe itself,
and other resources of that region are threatened with deterioration or degeneration. The area possesses irreplaceable environmental and ecological values (TRPA). It was decided that the area was experiencing difficulty in resource use, and environmental depletion.
Continued development and urbanization are increasing the environmental
problems of the area. Ensuring the social and economic health of the Basin relies on
maintaining and protecting the scenic, recreational, educational, scientific, natural, and
public health values of the region. It is in the public s interest to protect, preserve, and
enhance the stated values. In an attempt to preserve the natural beauty and outdoor
recreation of the Basin, it is pertinent to find and maintain an equilibrium between the
natural elements and the man-made ones. It is necessary that a Tahoe Regional Planning
Agency be established. This agency will possess the ability to establish Environmental
Threshold Carrying Capacities. It will also have the power to adopt and enforce a
regional plan and implement ordinances. These measures will result in the maintenance
of the capacities and at the same time, make possible organized and regulated growth and development (TRPA).
The bistate Compact has defined environmental threshold carrying capacity as
an environmental standard necessary to maintain a significant scenic, recreational,
educational, scientific, or natural value of the region or to maintain public health and
safety within the region. The Governing Body and Advisory Planning Commission of the TRPA conducted public hearings. They were not required to do so by the Compact,
however, the oral testimony and documentary evidence helped determine, and shape, the
threshold capacities (TRPA).
The threshold development was a four step process. The first step was to
bring together state, federal, and local agencies, in addition to the general public. The
program was also implemented to increase the public s awareness, and to monitor the
progress of the study. It was also used to determine major interests in the area, both
public and private. It also helped determine which areas needed more focus, and
narrowed the scope of thresholds to be determined.
Step number two identified the variables that were affecting each environmental
aspect. In the third step, cause and effect relationships were determined and evaluated,
according to how they affected a particular resource. Step number four established the
mechanisms necessary to achieve or maintain the thresholds.
The Regional Plan was developed in accordance with the determined thresholds,
and surrounding issues. Data was collected, and a recommended plan was developed. A
scoping report was issued in September of 1982. This was a summary of the proposed
Plan and its development process. It identified preliminary goals, and possibilities of
plan alternatives. In October of 1982, public participation programs were conducted.
These public programs also helped determine areas of interest to focus on (TRPA).
An Environmental Impact Statement was released in February of 1983. The EIS
consisted of plan alternatives, ranging from maximum regulation to redevelopment.
Comments were received from six regions outside of Lake Tahoe, in addition to
comments from Advisory Planning Commission and Governing Board. The plan was
later amended, and finally adopted in April of 1984 (TRPA).
It was decided that if the elements of the plan could not be implemented due to
legal conflict, or lack of funding that alternatives would be considered. A conflict
resolution method would be used, known as a Consensus Building Workshop, CBW.
Through this process the cause of the conflict would be determined, and resolution would be reached (TRPA).
There is a hierarchical relationship under which the framework is determined in
relation to the merits for projects. At the top of the hierarchy is the Tahoe Regional
Planning Compact. The relationships of the involved goals, plans, and regulations are
shown on the following page in figure 1. The framework depiction was taken from the
Goals and Policies outline of the TRPA.
The Regional Goals and Policies were determined by the Environmental Threshold Carrying Capacities and the Environmental Impact Statement. It also included other already existing law and plans, and incorporated those with public opinion. As a result, the Regional Plan provides coordinated and integrated direction for the Agency s
regulatory code and implementation of programs (TRPA).
Other plans and reference documents included the Federal 208 Water Quality
Plan, The Federal Air Quality Plan, and the California Regional Transportation Plan. The
responsibilities of carrying out these different policies was assumed by the TRPA.
The TRPA functions under a Regulatory Code. In implementing regulations, and
plans, they are required to do so under the provisions of the Goals and Policies Plan. The Goals and Policies Plan can be found in the Code of Ordinances, the Rules and
Regulations of Practice and Procedure, and the Administrative Regulations. The policies outlined in the Goals and Policies Plan are a guideline to implement monitoring and evaluation programs, the capital improvement programs, and the restoration programs. Through these programs, the Agency is able to achieve and maintain thresholds. Land use, for each area, is determined by Plan Area Statements. This is utilized to identify planning issues and establish specific direction for planning to meet the policy discretion of the Goals and Policies Plan . The only way a PAS can be overridden is by a Community Plan (TRPA).
One of the major contributors to the air, and water pollution problems comes from vehicles operating in that vicinity. Currently, there are eight different public
transportation services which operate in the Lake Tahoe Basin Area. These include the
Tahoe Regional Area Transit, the Tahoe Trolley, which operates during the summer only,
the Truckee Trolley, and the South Lake Tahoe Area Ground Express. There is also the
Bus Plus, which is for the elderly, and the Nifty Fifty-Trolley, as well as ski shuttles and
casino shuttles (www.keeptehoeblue.com). The services do not currently operate in
conjunction with one another. In fact, many provide service in overlapping areas. As a
cause the area is experiencing unnecessary traffic and pollution. In addition to this,
public transportation is so inefficient that some areas are left with no service at all.
The aspect of public transportation was obviously a major point for the TRPA to
focus on. A plan has been drawn up and will be put into effect in the summer of 1999.
The Coordinated Transit System, CTS, will provide service to passengers by a fixed
route. They will also be able to call in to request pickup. This system only integrates a
few of the currently running services (www.keeptahoeblue.com). It is, however, a step
toward resolving the problem.
There is a project, which is currently in the planning stages, which will promote the use of alternative fuel vehicles. Transportation service providers will be encouraged to purchase alternative fuel vehicles. Compressed Natural Gas, CNG, will hopefully, in the near future, take the place of fossil fuel for public transportation vehicles. It is also within the guidelines of the proposed plan to build a fueling facility in the South Lake Tahoe Area (TRPA Memorandum).
It can clearly be seen that the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact was set up with
very particular rules, regulations, and directions to provide the area with the much needed direction to bring about a positive change. The Lake will once again have the clarity, which made it so pristine, before humans made their mark on the land forever. Once again, the great forests will flourish unharmed by the toxic pollutants, and emissions that motor vehicles now release into the air. We will find a happy medium between a modern way of life, and still be able to live in accordance with a paradise which was here long before us. We must utilize political power to help protect a world which gave us life, and nurtures us, still today.
It seems as though environmentalists are always threatening us with world
destruction if we do not find a way to cut down our waste production, and ultimately,
pollution of the environment. Many people are now asking why. Why is it so extremely
important for us to change our nasty habits? If people actually took the time to think
about what it is we are doing to the ecosystem, I believe a change in daily habits would
be more feasible.
Without respecting the natural order of wilderness, we threaten the survival of
humans, other species, and the earth. This beautiful planet of ours, when left alone is
able to maintain its own balance of life and death, creation and destruction. We are
obligated to find a way to allow this life, which has everything to do with ours, to survive
the way it is meant to, naturally.
All organisms have been created, and have evolved, in a particular manner, and
each has a job to do. Each carries out an activity of its own. If they happen to do so to
our benefit, it is simply by chance, for they are not here only to help humans; to think that is far too anthropocentric. The world was not put here for humans to rule and conquer. We must be at peace with our surroundings.
Without taking any measures to preserve nature we will witness our own self-
destruction. To prevent our extinction we must preserve wilderness. If not for any other reason, we should protect nature to save our own lives. This may very well be the only way to get our lazy, self-centered, and materialistic human race to do anything for another living thing. Without preserving wilderness we will cease to exist.
The importance of the TRPA is quite evident. Without the Compact itself, the
Lake Tahoe Region would still be in great danger of total destruction. The bistate
agreement is like none other. It allows two separate entities to come together for the
common good. The programs now functioning in the Tahoe Basin set an example for
local, state, and federal governments. Hopefully it is only the beginning of a trend to
regulate development, through policy-making and policy reform, and ensure nature a
chance to exist after we are gone.
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