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Keep Tahoe Blue Advocacy Update
Since 1957, the League to Save Lake Tahoe has advocated and lobbied at all levels of government for environmental protections, Lake-friendly policies, infrastructure improvements and funding to Keep Tahoe Blue.

2020 Advocacy Wins:
This year, our policy professionals notched some key advocacy victories, which you can learn about in this eNewsletter or using the link below.
Preservation of Brockway Summit (see below)
Cutting the Green Tape Initiative (see below)
Tahoe Keys Complex (see below)
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Photo: Beau Rogers /Flickr
Brockway Summit Property Added to National Forest Lands
What is it? In 2015, developers submitted a proposal to build a 550-site private campground on 120 acres of undeveloped, forested ridgeline west of Highway 267 at Brockway Summit. The League, along with Mountain Area Preservation, Sierra Watch and community members, advocated strongly against the project for two years.

Construction of the resort would have set a terrible precedent for development in the Basin by adding significant traffic and related pollution, and flying in the face of the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan Update, which calls for concentrating development in the Basin’s existing town centers, instead of undeveloped, remote locations.

As a result of our unrelenting advocacy, the developers chose to sell the property to the U.S. Forest Service, where the environmentally sensitive area will be protected from development and open for sustainable public recreation in perpetuity.
Where is it in the process? On December 10, the U.S. Forest Service announced that their acquisition of two parcels totaling 120 acres at Brockway Summit was complete, concluding a three-year sale process.

What's next? The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit will manage the area as part of the National Forest System.
What is the League’s position? SUPPORT
This property purchase marks a significant win for environmental preservation in the Lake Tahoe Basin, as well as protection of Lake Tahoe’s water clarity. It also sets a good precedent for future development to be located in appropriate places in order to minimize environmental impacts. As a chief advocate for the U.S. Forest Service purchase and stewardship, the League is thrilled by the outcome.
Cutting the Green Tape Initiative
Photo: Tahoe Resource Conservation District
What is it? Natural disasters, climate change and human impacts threaten Lake Tahoe’s delicate ecology. Building the ecosystem’s resilience – its ability to recover from environmental shocks – is crucial to Keep Tahoe Blue. The most effective method to build resilience is through advancing restoration of Tahoe’s wetlands, forests and streams. However, regulatory processes can be slow-moving and expensive, delaying or stopping important restoration projects.

Through our involvement with the California Landscape Stewardship Network (CLSN), the League helped lead a collaborative effort with the heads of several California state agencies to identify and remove these bureaucratic hurdles, or “cut the green tape.”

Where is it in the process? In November, CLSN released a set of 14 policy recommendations to remove regulatory inefficiencies, so that critical ecosystem restoration work can occur more quickly, simply, and cost-effectively. You can read the report here.  

What’s next? The League continues to contribute to CLSN efforts to advance the pace and scale of environmental restoration projects in the Tahoe Basin and across California. The Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership is an example of a landscape-scale environmental improvement project planned for a broad swath of Tahoe’s west shore. The project area spans 59,000 acres of federal, state, local and private lands, from Emerald Bay to Olympic Valley. The project will apply forest management activities comprehensively across the entire landscape to restore the resilience of the west shore's forests, watersheds, recreational opportunities, and communities. More information on the project can be found here.

What is the League’s position? SUPPORT
With so much of Tahoe’s wetlands and forests damaged by past development, ecosystem restoration is key to bringing back the Lake’s natural filtration system, creating a healthy and safe fire regime, and building resilience to climate change. The work of CLSN to "cut the green tape" encourages cross-jurisdictional collaboration and revitalization of the environment on a landscape scale, which aligns with the League’s campaign to advance restoration.

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Upper Truckee Marsh Restoration Project
Photo: California Tahoe Conservancy
What is it? The Upper Truckee Marsh, located where the Upper Truckee River enters Lake Tahoe on the south shore, was once part of the largest wetland complex in the entire Sierra Nevada. Construction of the Tahoe Keys and Lake Tahoe Airport in the 1950s and 60s destroyed half of the marsh, which had acted as Lake Tahoe’s largest natural pollution filter. It also disconnected the Upper Truckee River from the floodplain, allowing the River to dump sediment and pollution directly into Lake Tahoe.

In 2020, state and federal agencies, led by the California Tahoe Conservancy (CTC), started the largest restoration effort in Lake Tahoe, restoring the remaining marsh so it can once again protect Lake Tahoe from upland pollution while providing improved habitat for wildlife and better recreation for the community.

Where is it in the process? Restoration work began in July of 2020 and will take approximately three years to complete. Significant progress was made over the course of the summer, including steps to create new wetlands in the Cove East portion of the Marsh. This part of the project included infilling the sailing lagoon located adjacent to the Tahoe Keys Marina, and removing sandy soil added to the site in the 1960s in preparation for development that never occurred. The ground level in this area is now low enough to connect to the Upper Truckee River and provide marsh habitat.

CTC also began work to renew the historic flow pattern of the Upper Truckee River. CTC excavated a series of pilot channels in the meadow surface east of the Highland Woods neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe. During high river flows, these pilot channels will link the River to the historic network of stream channels threaded through the center of the Marsh. With that hydrological connection restored, the Marsh’s filtration capability and wildlife habitat will improve.

What's next? Over the next two years, CTC will finish creating the new wetlands at Cove East, ensure that marsh vegetation establishes, improve the Cove East trail to provide better access and user experience, and stabilize the newly excavated river channels. Once the restoration work is complete, CTC will monitor and adaptively manage the project site.

What is the League’s position? SUPPORT
The League strongly supports restoration of the Upper Truckee Marsh. Because it will restore the ecological functions of this vast wetland area, the project will provide pollution filtration for the largest tributary and watershed draining into Lake Tahoe. The project has the potential to be Tahoe’s most beneficial restoration project to date.

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Meeks Bay Restoration Project
What is it? As currently proposed, the Meeks Bay Restoration Project will restore degraded habitat in the Meeks Lagoon and Meeks Creek, remove the shuttered marina, and improve sustainable recreation opportunities and access. The Meeks Creek watershed, located on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, includes approximately 68 acres of severely impacted habitat. The Meeks Creek and Meeks Lagoon system once provided important habitat for native fish as well as ecosystem functions that kept fine sediment pollution out of Lake Tahoe. In 2016, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board (Lahontan), U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) and Washoe Tribe partnered to begin work on a full restoration of the Meeks Creek watershed.

Where is it in the process? Throughout 2020, a stakeholder working group, which includes the League, reviewed design options and provided feedback to create a set of design alternatives for the proposed project. Several public workshops were held to gather public comment. After a final public workshop for this stage of planning, three project alternatives will undergo a detailed environmental analysis and comparison in 2021. The central question of these alternatives is whether motorized boating will return to Meeks Bay, and if so, how much and what kind.

A separate project to control a population of aquatic invasive species in Meeks Lagoon and Meeks Creek was completed in the fall of 2020. The site will be monitored to gauge its effectiveness.

What's next? Additional public workshops on the project will be held on January 7 and again in August of 2021. There will also be opportunities for public input at TRPA’s Governing Board meeting in July 2021. The formal environmental review process will begin with the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement (DEIR/S), which is estimated for early 2021. A formal public comment period will follow. Currently, the project is anticipated to come before the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for final approval in early 2022.

What is the League’s position? IN PROGRESS supportive
The League supports the project to date as a rare opportunity for watershed-scale restoration in Tahoe, subject to a few suggested modifications. The League is especially supportive of the proposed plans to remove aquatic invasive species, remove the existing marina infrastructure, restore Meeks Lagoon, restore Meeks Creek, and implement best management practices for stormwater management. We also support upgrading the sewer line that crosses Meeks Creek, installing natural fencing to protect Tahoe yellow cress, installing wildlife enhancement structures, and installing pedestrian routes and associated interpretative signage.

The League believes the project goals can be achieved with one, or a hybrid, of the project alternatives. We do have some concerns with aspects of the project alternatives, such as the construction of a new pier and boat launch; reconstruction of trailer parking, new vehicle routes, the campground, and day-use parking areas; and implementation of shoreline stabilization measures at the north end of Meeks Bay.

Our hope is that this project can strike a balance between types of uses, reduce the potential for user-conflict on and off the water, and restore a functioning ecosystem and habitat.

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Shoreline Plan Implementation
What is it? The Shoreline Plan provides guidance around construction of structures for boating access – such as boat ramps, piers, buoys, marinas, boat lifts, boat houses, and slips – as well as policies related to equal access for motorized and non-motorized boating on Lake Tahoe, and the management of aquatic invasive species.

The most recent step in implementation of the Shoreline Plan is a lottery to award new mooring permits. From December 1, 2020 through March 1, 2021, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is accepting applications for moorings (buoys, boat lifts, and slips) from lakefront property owners. The drawing will be held on April 1, 2021.

Please note that this lottery is for new moorings and is not the pier lottery, which will be held in 2021.

Where is it in the process? The League to Save Lake Tahoe joined the Shoreline Steering Committee in 2016 and actively participated in over 50 meetings to get a strong, publicly supported plan in place. In October 2018 that happened when an official plan was approved. The plan will enhance recreation experiences around the Lake while also protecting the environment and planning responsibly for our future. For instance, the plan seeks to reduce shoreline erosion that degrades water quality, while also minimizing user conflict on the Lake by implementing 600-foot no-wake zones along all of Tahoe’s shores, including all of Emerald Bay, as well as a 200-foot buffer encircling every non-motorized user.

What's next? Submissions for the new mooring lottery will be accepted until March 1, 2021. The drawing for new permits will occur on April 1, 2021. Later in 2021, a separate lottery will be held to award new pier permits to qualifying lakefront property owners. TRPA will announce the dates of that lottery.

What is the League’s position? IN PROGRESS supportive  
The League is supportive of the Shoreline Plan as many of our suggested improvements were incorporated. As with all our advocacy, we worked to find balance between recreational access to the Lake and preservation of its scenic and ecological qualities, so future generations can also enjoy our Jewel of the Sierra. The improvements we secured include metering the release of new buoy permits over twenty years, limiting future development along the shoreline, and incentivizing property owners to construct shared, multi-use piers to reduce the total number of piers at Lake Tahoe.

The success of the Shoreline Plan depends upon its timely and effective implementation, including awarding new mooring and pier permits, and enforcement of the no-wake zones, among other regulations to protect Lake users and the environment.

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Regional Transportation Plan
Photo: Beau Rogers / Flickr
What is it? Created by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) provides a 25-year vision for improving transportation throughout the Tahoe Basin. The RTP is updated every four years. The long-term vision of the RTP is to make Tahoe’s transportation system interconnected, inter-regional, and sustainable by connecting people and places in ways that reduce reliance on the private automobile. To achieve that goal, the plan focuses on transit, trails, technology, and community enhancements to provide more travel options for residents and visitors. The plan – implemented by local governments and regional agencies – is supported largely through federal and state funding. At present, a substantial funding gap needs to be filled to realize the complete RTP vision. This transportation funding gap is noticeable to anyone who travels in or to Tahoe and is largely responsible for the lack of progress in achieving RTP goals. Local and regional funding sources are needed to allow Tahoe’s small resident population to provide a sustainable transportation system for all travelers, including thousands of residents and workers, and millions of tourists.

Where is it in the process? After years of monitoring and data collection, TRPA staff and partners conducted extensive public outreach throughout 2020 to refine the RTP update. The League was a key stakeholder, reviewing thousands of pages of technical documents, working directly with agency staff and executives, and providing extensive feedback. TRPA is currently responding to comments on the plan and associated environmental documentation. After several months’ delay, final approval from TRPA’s Governing Board is expected in February 2021.

Approving the 2020 RTP update is more complicated than approving the previous iteration in 2017. TRPA must also update a relevant environmental threshold, vehicle miles travelled (VMT), which is currently being exceeded, or is “out of attainment.” There are over 150 environmental thresholds – metrics of environmental health – that TRPA is charged with setting and actively managing to protect Tahoe’s natural environment and communities. TRPA maintains these thresholds by exercising its powers to shape projects and plans as the Tahoe Basin’s central permitting authority. The VMT threshold was created 40 years ago to control atmospheric deposition of nitrous oxides (NOx), which are tailpipe emissions that can fall on the Lake and fuel algae growth. While NOx deposition goals are presently being met, the Basin has exceeded the VMT threshold several times and is currently out of attainment. Based on current, best available science, VMT is not a good indicator of NOx deposition, but it is a useful and required measure of transportation impacts and progress toward TRPA’s sustainability goals. The RTP cannot be approved while the current, NOx-based threshold is being exceeded. 

The VMT threshold needs to be updated now to ensure the RTP is implemented and transportation in the Basin improves, which will alleviate stress from travel – both on the community and environment – and address the impacts from climate change.

What's next? The RTP and the VMT threshold update are expected to come before the TRPA for approval in February 2021.

What is the League’s position? IN PROGRESS
The League supports implementation of the RTP, but is waiting to see how the VMT threshold update proceeds. Technically, the VMT threshold must be updated to approve the RTP. Practically, in order to implement the RTP, the VMT threshold must motivate the agencies and local governments charged with implementing the RTP to accelerate their progress on projects and programs in the plan.

In order for the VMT threshold to be effective, it must provide a hard backstop – including aggressive tailpipe emissions and VMT reduction targets – so traffic gets better, not worse. It also must ensure individual development projects and plans set aspirational VMT reduction goals to protect the environment and community from the impacts of added automobile travel. Tahoe is too special to continue to suffer from a lack of environmentally friendly travel options.

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Aquatic Weeds in the Tahoe Keys
The Tahoe Keys Complex before (left/top) and after (right/bottom) weed removal by suction dredging.
Taken in September and November of 2020. Photo: Sierra Overhead Analytics.
What is it? The Tahoe Keys are ground zero for the largest infestation of aquatic weeds in Lake Tahoe. These aquatic invaders are a threat to the Lake’s delicate ecology and water quality. Current methods for controlling aquatic weeds are not adequate to address the decades-old problem in the Tahoe Keys lagoons, which are over 90% full of weeds. The League is helping lead an effort to identify a sustainable, long-term and Lake-friendly solution to the weeds issue in the Tahoe Keys lagoons. The Tahoe Keys Lagoons Aquatic Weed Control Methods Test (CMT) is a collaborative project to identify, assess, then test a combination of weed treatments in specific, controlled sites within the Tahoe Keys.

While the CMT is under development and environmental review, immediate action is needed to prevent serious ecological damage to Lake Tahoe. Weeds have already spread beyond the Keys, creating a 100+ acre infestation in the Lake itself, known as the Tahoe Keys Complex. The Complex illustrates the immediate threat to Lake Tahoe.

Where is it in the process? During the summer and fall of 2020, draft environmental impact and water quality analysis reports for the proposed Tahoe Keys CMT were released for public review and comment. These reports revealed that the test can be conducted safely, for both the Lake’s ecology and recreational uses. They also show that taking no action will result in the greatest negative impacts for Lake Tahoe.

While the CMT process unfolded, the League took steps to tackle the problem in the Tahoe Keys Complex to slow the weeds’ further spread into the Lake. We advocated for immediate treatment of the Complex and provided a donation that unlocked public funding to remove the weeds. In September and October of 2020, dive teams used suction dredging to clear weeds from some of the most heavily infested acres of the Complex (see photos above).

What's next? Recently, a project update announced that the review process for the CMT has been expanded and the timeline modified to allow for additional environmental analysis and review, as well as another public comment period. This shifts the decision date on the CMT from spring 2021 to later in the year. The League will continue to be deeply engaged in the environmental review process under the new timeline.

In the meantime, we will continue testing and expanding invasive species control and containment methods. We are also excited to announce that in early 2021, a second bubble curtain will be installed in the Tahoe Keys. The new bubble curtain will go in the east channel that connects the Tahoe Keys Marina to the Lake, complementing the bubble curtain installed in the west channel of the Keys in 2017. This technology helps prevent weeds from spreading into the Lake by blocking them at the channel mouth, while allowing boats to pass through. Suction dredging in the Tahoe Keys Complex will also continue in 2021. The League will continue to raise funds and advocate for the immediate removal of weeds in the Lake itself to prevent the infestation from spreading.

What is the League’s position? IN PROGRESS supportive
The League supports immediate action to treat the Tahoe Keys Complex and eradicate infestations that are already in the Lake. We also support continuing the tests of existing control methods in the Tahoe Keys, including laminar flow aeration and the new bubble curtain.

The expanded environmental review process for the proposed Tahoe Keys Control Methods Test will guide our final position on the project. If further scientific review continues to show the test will be safe for the Lake environment and the people who enjoy it, we must explore a combination of methods to get the source of the infestation under control. If we do nothing, the problem will only get worse.

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