Lake Tahoe’s blueprint to a sustainable future

Photo provided by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.  

Photo provided by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.  

Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is as famous for its scenery as its legendary clear cobalt blue waters, but the region’s popularity has always threatened its water resources. Human impacts, such as run-off from roads and erosion from Tahoe’s old built environment, are causing water quality deterioration and seriously harming the lake’s renowned water clarity – one can see on average 70 feet down.

More than forty years ago, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) arose to provide land use planning to accommodate economic growth in the Lake Tahoe region which spans Nevada and California while ensuring that protective measures are taken to maintain a healthy watershed in the area.

Today, TRPA continues to move forward as the first bi-state regional planning agency in the nation. Most recently, the agency has focused on updating its Regional Plan, adopted in 1987 to help preserve the environment in the region for future generations.

TRPA considers the Regional Plan Update to be the blueprint to a sustainable future for the region. The plan proposes to pair ecosystem restoration with locally-guided environmental redevelopment to create mixed-use town centers where people can live, work and play.
In late 2011, the Regional Plan Update Committee of the TRPA Governing Board reviewed land use policies and also endorsed policy updates for public services and recreation to be further analyzed in a draft environmental study due for release in March 2012. The full TRPA Governing Board is expected to make a final decision on the update in December 2012. 

Chief among policy changes being discussed by the committee are land coverage rules and proposals for the size of projects that could be reviewed exclusively by local governments with approved plans. 

Limiting the amount of land coverage at Lake Tahoe will continue to be a cornerstone of TRPA’s plan to protect Lake Tahoe’s water quality, according to the agency. But reasonable changes are being considered to remove impediments that have slowed environmental progress. 

TRPA’s land coverage regulations are often regarded as restrictive. Paved areas such as roads, parking lots and buildings—impervious surfaces—have an impact on water quality in sensitive watersheds like Lake Tahoe. More land coverage translates to impaired water quality. TRPA’s land coverage regulations were created because of this effect on Tahoe’s world-famous clarity. 
The Regional Plan Update will encourage land coverage to be concentrated in town centers, where it can be coupled with area-wide water quality treatment as well as greater walkability and links to services and transit, according to Joanne Marchetta,  TRPA executive director. 
“Environmental redevelopment projects are needed to accelerate the achievement of environmental thresholds,” Marchetta said. “To evolve TRPA’s environmental strategies to meet 21st century challenges they need to recognize that property owners are partners in Lake Tahoe’s protection.” 

Material for this article was provided by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.  Visit for more information.

Published in the February/March 2012 The Western Planner

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