Archive for the ‘Lake Tahoe’ Category

The e-mails are flying and the Facebook posts are multiplying.

The Sierra Club is predicting environmental disaster for the Tahoe Basin if the California Assembly ratifies SB 630, recently approved by the California Senate 39-0. The bill preserves the bi-state regulation of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding lands through the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority.

TRPA, or Ter-pa as it is referred to by the locals, was created in 1969 when Congress ratified the compact between Nevada and California.

It has been a rocky relationship between the two states over the last few years over the degree of regulation, specifically the impact on the region’s economy. Nevada threatened to pull out of TRPA over policies it perceived as detrimental to the economic health of the region.

Allow me to digress a little.

I count myself as an ardent proponent of protecting the lake and its surroundings. It is my second home and I have spent increasingly long stays in my abode on Nevada’s North Shore. I served as CFO of Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, NV for a year, returning to Los Angeles this past April.

The college has an impressive environmental resume and is home to the Tahoe Center for Environmental Studies. The center is located in a Leed Certified Platinum building on the campus. I was proud of our partnership with UC Davis, who shares the facility with SNC and conducts environmental studies of the lake.

Outdoor activities are important to the faculty, staff and students. Many organized events were developed around responsible use of the natural splendor we lived in 24/7.

Although surrounded by one of God’s and nature’s finest creations, we were also acutely aware of the fragility of the environment.

If the Sierra Club fears Nevada will favor economic development to the detriment of the environment, the concern is exaggerated.

If anything, Nevada has been a better steward of its 29 miles of shoreline than California has of its 41. The worst damage ever inflicted on the Lake was the development of the Tahoe Keyes Marina in the city of South Lake Tahoe. It destroyed irreplaceable wetlands that filtered tons of sediment and nutrients. By contrast, about one-third of Nevada’s shoreline is encompassed by a large state park that effectively blocks any development over a large portion of the eastern basin.

Incline Village and Crystal Bay on Nevada’s share of the North Shore are as developed as they will ever be. Both towns are managed with environmental sensitivity by the Incline Village General Improvement District. IVGID managed the restoration of the Incline Creek and Third Creek watershed, the largest source of sediment on that part of the lake.

If the Sierra Club were truly committed to protecting the Tahoe Basin, it would support the thinning of the surrounding forest.

To the naked eye, the pine-covered landscape appears healthy. It is a carpet of green.

Upon closer inspection, the effects of the bark beetle are evident. Swaths of trees are showing signs of infestation – their needles are turning brown. Death is certain and the dying trees will become fuel for fires.

The forest is too thick. Besides being conducive to the rapid spread of wildfires, growth beneficial to wildlife has been crowded out.

The single greatest threat to Lake Tahoe is a massive wildfire. It would reverse decades of improvement to the renowned clarity of the water. Local fire districts have done excellent work creating halos of defensible space around the population centers, but thinning of the forest is the only defense against a massive, catastrophic blaze.

Yet the Sierra Club has stubbornly fought this strategy.

Yes, there would be damage to the environment. You can’t cut and remove trees without causing harm, but the damage would be temporary. What’s more, it would have to be done over a long period of time; therefore, the visual and physical impact would be mitigated. I would gladly deal with the damage from thinning over the widespread destruction caused by a fire.

The Tahoe Basin bounced back from the massive clear cutting done during the silver mining boom of the Comstock Era in the 19th Century. However, the new forest was not diverse and was too dense. It will recover from thinning….but in a healthy way.

The Sierra Club should be more concerned with real natural dangers to Tahoe than fear Nevada’s legitimate concern for the region’s economy. What’s more, the vast majority of Californians and Nevadans who live in this special place today, including local businesses, appreciate the importance of preserving the lake. They will not allow any government or special interest to abuse it.

Tahoe Blue 2

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Various federal and state agencies, with support from private foundations, wage an ongoing battle against the spread of invasive species in the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe.

A fairly recent strategy appears to be working. Thin rubber sheets 100 feet in length are placed over infested areas. This technique suffocates the weeds, clams and other species that have been introduced to the lake from the unclean bilges and hulls of recreational boats, along with other careless human activity.

What about native vegetation in the lake, you might ask?

There really is none. The sandy bottom is pristine in its natural state, leaving the water sparkling clear, a perfect surface to reflect the blue sky above.

Emerald Bay is virtually free from invasives today.
Emerald Bay weed control

The lake’s clarity has largely been stabilized due to persistent environmental controls – from runoff- reducing landscaping standards to boat inspections.

Local governments are also adept at responding to disasters, such as a broken sewage pipe resulting from the construction of a home near Kings Beach on the north shore in July 2005. The 120,000 gallon leak was stopped quickly and the flow corralled in short order. The adjacent beach was reopened in 11 days after two consecutive clean tests for bacteria. It was as if it never happened.

No one, either with the local governments or residents, can let their guard down. Blocking algae-forming nutrients from flowing into the lake is a non stop battle, but the local communities realize that the lake’s clarity is the most important asset to the region’s economy.

You can really appreciate the concerted effort everyone makes when you visit one of the beaches and swim in water so pure you can drink it. It is one of the few swimming experiences where you will feel absolutely clean and refreshed when you are through.

I’ll take it over LA south bay beaches any day.

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Snowpack looking good

Sand Harbor, Nevada State Park

Sand Harbor, Nevada State Park

The snow pack is excellent for this time of year, ranging from 150% to 200% of normal.

As always, February and March are the critical months, but if they are anywhere close to normal, we will be in pretty good shape.

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Total eclipse

Sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I was in Virginia last August when the earthquake struck just ten miles from my client’s office.

Sometimes I am in the right place at the right time.  That was the case today.

Lake Tahoe was in the direct path of the total eclipse that traversed the southwestern states.

This was my second total eclipse, the last one was back in 1970. I was visiting Virginia Beach at the time.  That one was more pronounced because the moon was closer to the earth, blotting out more of the sun.  It grew dark enough for the crickets to chirp at noon.

This picture was taken with my camera phone using a piece of undeveloped 35mm film over the lens, which accounts for the orange tint.

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Copious amounts of snow fell in the Tahoe Basin this week.

Let’s hope for more dumps in March.

I took this photo with Pro HDR for the iPhone!

Diamond Peak near the top.

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The bi-state North Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Authority (TRPA) approved the development of an upscale resort in Crystal Bay, Nevada, within walking distance of the California state line.

The project, named Boulder Bay, has been hotly debated for years.  Significant concessions were made by the developers and it appears to be on its way to fruition despite the possibility of lawsuits.

Boulder Bay


The vote was 12-2 in favor and may represent the last major decision of the controversial agency charged with controlling development in the Lake Tahoe basin.  It appears all but certain Nevada is pulling out of the compact that was formed with bi-partisan cooperation during Governor Reagan’s administration.

California and Nevada will each have its own agency to assure protection of their respective shorelines and watersheds.

The TRPA’s decision begs the question: what will be the fate of the dated Cal Neva Hotel across the road from Boulder Bay?
The Cal Neva was in its heyday when Frank Sinatra owned a fifty percent interest in the days of the Rat Pack, but it is an aging and poorly maintained relic today.  I walked around the property last year with some friends from the area and was appalled by the deterioration. 
Amazingly, the hotel experienced some spurts of activity in 2010, including a News Years Eve event that attracted 1,500 guests.
Nevertheless, it appears some group will have to invest serious cash to make a going concern of the historic casino resort.  Perhaps the older casino section can be salvaged and restored, but the high-rise hotel may not be worth saving.  It won’t come close to matching the ambiance of Boulder Bay.
Old Blue Eyes would be shedding a tear or two if he knew.

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One of the worst tsunamis to strike California did not occur along the coast, but near the Nevada border at Lake Tahoe.
It was triggered my a massive landslide near present day Homewood (about midway on the West Shore) and sent water sloshing back and forth across the lake as if it were a bathtub.  The waves were hundreds of feet high.  McKinney Bay was created.
Follow this link for an excellent simulation of the event.
Although a repeat of the massive landslide that triggered the event is unlikely, a 7.0 earthquake could produce tsunami waves around thirty feet tall which would ravage properties along the beaches, obliterate Kings Beach on the North Shore and cause widespread damage to South Lake Tahoe.

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