Other Voices: We’re making progress on our environmental goals
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency recently released its five-year Threshold Evaluation Report on the status of 36 environmental indicators, which shows that 21 indicators are moving in a positive direction.
While we have a long way to ago to reach attainment of our environmental thresholds, or standards, I believe we’re moving in the right direction. I’d like to summarize some highlights from this important report and share our next steps going forward.
The Agency uses the five-year report to scientifically examine the condition of nine environmental thresholds carrying capacities that TRPA is working to achieve.
The thresholds are measurements of the quality of Lake Tahoe’s air, water, soils, vegetation, fish, wildlife, recreation, noise and scenic resources. Each threshold area has a set of region-wide indicators, such as visibility for air quality, that are used to determine if the region is in attainment with standards that were set originally in 1982.
The bottom line is that achieving all of our environmental standards will require a commitment for the generations. Fixing an ecosystem doesn’t happen overnight, and some standards won’t be achieved for decades. So much development occurred in the Tahoe Basin before TRPA had conservation measures in place that the key is to stay the course.
We must continue investing in ecosystem restoration and looking for ways to get environmental benefits from all public and private projects. We are improving the health of Lake Tahoe one project at a time, and I believe we’re on the right track for the future.
The Threshold Evaluation Report showed that 25 percent of the list of indicators are in full attainment and another 25 percent are near attainment. Attainment of a threshold indicator is achieved when 100 percent of all indicator components meet the standards; near attainment is achieved when 96 percent of components are in attainment.
An indicator in the water quality category was the only indicator to show a negative trend. Phytoplankton Primary Productivity is a measure of how fast certain algae in the lake process carbon. The report states that the phytoplankton indicator continues to go beyond the standard rate that was set in the 1960s and may not be attainable because of a change in the kind of algae found in the lake.
This is one of many indicators we need to update to better reflect actual conditions and current science in our threshold update, which is currently under review.
A few of the many improvements documented in the threshold report include better visibility, enhancements in sensitive vegetation, improvements in scenic resources and higher quality recreational experiences. While most trends are positive, we know we have to focus on transportation improvements to help air and water quality and continue wetlands restoration work in order to meet our soils thresholds.
Recent scientific studies have shown conclusively that if we reduce pollutants entering the lake by about a third, we could actually reach our standard of 100 feet of lake clarity in about 20 years. This news is encouraging and exciting.
The threshold report looks back over the last five years at how we’re doing, but it also looks forward and identifies what needs to be re-evaluated or updated. The TRPA is working with the public and partner agencies to update the regional goals and policies for the Tahoe Basin, including establishing a unified regional vision for the future. As work evolves on the threshold standards and indicators, TRPA is taking new scientific advances into consideration to ensure any adjustments are grounded in the best available data.
The update of TRPA’s Regional Plan, as part of Pathway 2007, will be ongoing throughout the next year and a half and the plan is expected to be adopted in October 2008.
In the short term, TRPA is working with its many partners to update the Environmental Improvement Program and map out future lake-saving projects that will accelerate the attainment of our environmental thresholds. Science will show us what projects are most effective at reducing fine sediments and harmful nutrients from entering the lake and we’ll prioritize projects accordingly.
The future looks bright for Lake Tahoe. With continued commitment and investment, TRPA will continue working to preserve this special place for future generations. An executive summary of the 2006 Threshold Evaluation Report, as well as the full technical report and environmental assessment of updates to the thresholds are available at TRPA offices and on the Agency’s Web site, http://www.trpa.org.
John Singlaub is the Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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