Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD
Tahoe Daily Tribune
As we have heard one developer put it, Tahoe has plenty of buildings. The problem for Lake Tahoe's environmental health is that some of those buildings are old, dilapidated and lack the means of preventing pollution from running off into the lake. Many were also built in the wrong place — on old streambeds or the wetlands and meadows that once served as natural filters for Lake Tahoe. Others are in dispersed locations far from each other and from where people live and work, requiring more car trips and adding to traffic congestion.
How does this harm Lake Tahoe? Recent scientific studies have found that fine sediment, smaller than the width of a human hair, is the No. 1 contributor to clarity loss and that the majority of fine sediment pollution comes from roads, parking lots and buildings.
When cars and trucks drive over the road traction abrasives that Tahoe agencies apply to provide safe winter traction for drivers, they crush materials into a fine dust — making them the single largest source of fine sediment. When it rains, or the snow melts, fine sediment then wash into the lake, where it remains suspended and degrades the lake’s clarity.
These are complex problems.
When the League to Save Lake Tahoe advocated for Tahoe's 2012 Regional Plan Update, we had reservations but put our faith in it in part because of a central feature — planning language and incentives to encourage lake-friendly redevelopment in the region’s town centers. Under the updated plan, new projects would help fund the removal of old, lake-harming development and drive environmental restoration on the land left behind.
Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD, is the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. The League — also known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue” — is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, founded in 1957.