By Tom Knudson
Lake Tahoe's water clarity appears to have stabilized, but the public and private sectors need to do more to make sure the lake does not slide into ecological decay.
That was the message delivered Monday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and others at the Lake Tahoe Summit.
"If we are going to save this lake, it is because people care and we work together and we make the necessary compromises," said Feinstein.
For 16 years, Feinstein and other leaders have gathered each summer to discuss the state of Lake Tahoe, one of the most scenic bodies of freshwater in the world. The event was launched by former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in 1997.
The theme of this year's meeting at Edgewood Tahoe, hosted by Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was "Public-Private Partnerships -- Investing in the Future of Lake Tahoe. "
The lake, which straddles the California and Nevada border, is threatened by erosion, invasive species, climate change and overcrowded, fire-prone forest conditions.
All of those topics were discussed Monday, along with the region's struggling economy and ailing infrastructure.
Heller said he hopes an update to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's regional plan will prove both business and environment friendly.
"Now is the time to look for ways to attract capital to develop run-down infrastructure and develop projects that will boost the economy and improve lake clarity," Heller said.
Many politicians are frustrated, including Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove.
"There is not going to be a private sector left unless we get serious about economic improvement," McClintock said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, spoke about the threat of climate change and said solutions will require collaboration. "We're not going to get there with just a Democratic plan or just a Republican plan," Brown said. "It's going to take finding that common ground."
Feinstein said Lake Tahoe's clarity --102 feet in 1968 -- was 69 feet last year. In 2010, it was 64 feet.
"Clarity seems to have stabilized. That's some good news," Feinstein said. "It's not continuing to deteriorate.
"But we're not in the clear. So we really need to redouble our effort to keep erosion out of the lake."
She said invasive species, such as Asian clams and smallmouth bass, pose another big challenge. And still another is wildfire.
"Fire is a constant presence," she said. "You can look around and you can see the dead and dying trees."
Feinstein is co-author of a 2000 law that brought more than $450 million to the lake for environmental restoration and is co-sponsoring another bill seeking more funding.
She called on private citizens to help and encouraged contributions to a nonprofit group, the Tahoe Fund.
"I really want to ask you to participate," she said. "Help us raise the private money.