SAND HARBOR — Earlier this month Nevada officials celebrated the start of construction of a new 3-mile bike path that will run from Incline Village to this popular state park along a rugged section of Lake Tahoe.
Gov. Brian Sandoval talked about the project at a groundbreaking on Aug. 19, saying it will make visiting the area safer for thousands of Nevadans and visitors to the east shore of the lake. But significant improvements to storm-water runoff will also be part of the project using state transportation funding.
“We have committed multimillions of dollars to implement a national model in storm-water management and drainage facilities here at Lake Tahoe and across the state,” Sandoval said. “These improvements will indeed help improve and maintain the natural clarity of Lake Tahoe.”
The project is another example of Nevada keeping its promise to protect the lake, he said.
The $25 million to $30 million project along state Highway 28 is just one more example of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been and are being spent to preserve the beauty of the Lake of the Sky. It is scheduled to be finished in late 2018.
The lake, shared by Nevada and California, is world famous and justly so, Sandoval said to the assembled crowd as nearby picnickers and boaters enjoyed the late summer day.
The work to preserve and protect Lake Tahoe will be center stage here on Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., hosts the 20th annual Lake Tahoe Summit, with invitees including President Barack Obama and Nevada’s own The Killers performing at the event at Harveys Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino at Stateline.
The Tahoe summit, an annual gathering to focus on improving the environmental quality of the national treasure, began in 1997 when President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore attended following a personal invitation from Reid.
The first summit brought national attention to the lake and spurred passage of the first Lake Tahoe Restoration Act in 2000. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested to restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity and natural systems in the local watersheds.
Reid, in comments about the upcoming summit made last week, said he wants the 20th anniversary event to be more of a celebration than just policy discussions and speeches, although there will be a few of those as well.
“The first event was better than I ever expected,” he said. “What did I expect in the future? I didn’t know for sure. We’ve gotten over $2 billion for the lake. The lake has more clarity. We’re doing much more to protect it than we did before.
“We can’t think 20 years has taken care of all the problems — it hasn’t,” Reid said. “But it has sure set the tone for what needs to be done in the future.”
Reid said he is flattered that President Obama is coming. He has not been to the lake before.
“He’s coming there because it’s part of America,” Reid said.
Despite the huge financial investment in the Tahoe Basin, some scientists suggest that the lake could become victim to the larger environmental threat of climate change.
Rush Holt, a former member of Congress who is now the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said climate change will not only affect the health of the lake, but also the area’s economy.
Holt cites a 2014 study by San Francisco State University that found ski resorts contribute more than half a billion dollars to the Lake Tahoe economy annually. Yet the amount of precipitation that fell as snow in 2015 was the lowest ever recorded, he said.
The region saw a much better winter in 2016, but the consequences of a warming climate could be significant for the region, which contributes significantly to Nevada’s economy and tax base.
Holt, whose organization is nonpartisan, said there is no longer any debate about the warming climate and that human activity is a significant contributing factor.
“It has become clear that this has been happening for decades,” he said. “It was possible to debate it or ignore it for a long time, but in recent years, you cannot. No reasonable person can dispute that these changes are occurring, caused in large part by current activities.”
The country, through its innovation and resourcefulness, has overcome other environmental threats, from acid rain to the ozone hole, Holt said. Science, industry and government can come together to address this threat as well, he said.
“We want everyone to understand how this change fits in with human well-being,” he said. “We hope all public officials in the region will pay attention to these really threatening signals.”
Reid agrees that global climate change is a concern, but not just for the future of the lake.
Those who argue that climate change is a hoax are not facing reality, he said. Raging wildfires in the West and bark beetle infestations of the Tahoe forest are proof that climate change is already an issue, Reid said.
The water quality improvements that will be paid for with state transportation dollars as part of the bike path project will include enhanced roadside drainage inlets, sediment filtration systems and erosion control to help preserve the quality of storm water entering Lake Tahoe.
The sediment filtration systems include water collection basins or “ponds” through which storm-water runoff is captured and naturally evaporated. The sediment left behind after evaporation is then manually removed.
Enhanced erosion control measures include additional rock on roadside slopes as well as placing rock and riprap within water drainage facilities to further help naturally capture waterborne sediment before it reaches Lake Tahoe.
Back at Sand Harbor, visitors Bruce Heimbach and Marie Avery of San Diego were returning to the park after a hike along the route of the new bike path adjoining the highway, busy even on a Friday in summer.
“I think adding a bike path and safety to the bikers — as someone who is driving along this road, it gets a little dicey sometimes,” Avery said. “I think it is just going to add for more people to be able to really enjoy this beautiful area.”
Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-461-3820. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801