The mission is simple: restore Lake Tahoe


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was created in 1969 by a compact between California and Nevada that was ratified by Congress. The TRPA governing board is made up of 15 members: seven from California, seven from Nevada, and one non-voting presidential appointee.

Six members are locally elected officials representing five counties and one incorporated city that share the lake. But the compact provides for the majority of seats to be held by representatives from outside the Tahoe basin, so the board will focus on regional and national interests and not just local concerns.

The TRPA's mission statement, which was recently simplified at the urging of board member Steve Wynn, is "to lead the cooperative effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe region."

That message is contained in the agency's brochures, but there is little that communicates the TRPA's mission in the bland two-story office building in Zephyr Cove, which houses the agency on the Nevada side of the lake.

The heart of the agency's efforts is contained in two hefty documents. The first document, the inch-and-a-half-thick Draft 1996 Evaluation Report: Environmental Threshold Carrying Capacities and the Regional Plan Package for the Lake Tahoe Region, contains detailed reports on the agency's progress - or more accurately, lack of progress - over the last 10 years toward bringing the basin in line with its "threshold standards' in nine areas: water quality, air quality, soil conservation, vegetation, fish habitat, wildlife habitat, noise, scenic resources and recreation.

The slightly smaller Draft Environmental Improvement Program for the Lake Tahoe Region, contains descriptions of 546 projects totaling $730 million that the agency hopes to undertake - some in cooperation with other agencies and private interests - over the next 10 years to make more progress toward reaching the basin's "threshold standards."

The TRPA's $3.4 million annual budget is funded by the California and Nevada state legislatures, local agencies, federal grants and fines and impact fees, such as a $2,000 air quality fee and a $1.25 per square foot water-quality fee imposed on new single-family homes.

Despite recent problems, including a threat by the California Legislature to slash the agency's budget, agency director Jim Baetge is upbeat.

"There's nothing but good that can happen in this basin," he said. "In the 1970s, we couldn't make progress because of the friction, but there's a general acceptance and willingness to proceed now. What brings most players back is our agreement that, in order to get environmental improvement, you need economic development. You can't do it in a weak economy. You need both. The attraction is Tahoe. If you lose it, you lose your investment.

"And we're losing this lake," Baetge added. "We can't sit around for another 20 years and decide how to resolve it. We don't have that time anymore. We have to move forward or in 40 years this lake will look like any other lake in the country, and that would be an absolute crime."

For information, contact TRPA, P.O. Box 1038, 308 Dorla Court, Zephyr Cove, NV 89448, (702/588-4547), e-mail: [email protected]; home page address:

High Country News Classifieds