Protecting, not exploiting, Lake Tahoe

Money alone won't keep Lake Tahoe blue.

But a consistent source of funds will help its environmental managers keep a focus on the work that still must be done. So it was good news this week when Sen. John Ensign announced legislation to provide annually for Lake Tahoe restoration from the sale of federal lands in the Las Vegas area.

In all, the price tag is more than $900 million for improvements at the lake. The legislation, an amendment to the Southern Nevada Lands Act, would provide a pipeline of $30 million a year to help make up shortfalls in funds promised during President Clinton's 1997 summit.

Not all the money in the long-range plan is purely environmental. Redevelopment of the business corridor in South Lake Tahoe has provided an economic shot in the arm, as well. But most of it is headed toward projects such as rehabilitating wetlands, decreasing erosion and creating mass transit in order to reduce the number of automobiles on the highways around Lake Tahoe.

We've regularly praised the work done to preserve the scenic beauty of the lake, and just as regularly called for a more efficient and responsive Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. We'd like to be able to feel more confident that these millions of dollars in public funds are being used as effectively as possible.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect in the history of efforts to polish the Sierra's emerald lake is the bipartisan political cooperation. From Ronald Reagan to Clinton to now-President Bush, from Ensign to Sen. Harry Reid, beside him at the lake this week, the parade of Republicans and Democrats who have stepped up to make commitments is praiseworthy.

Of course, it's just the kind of picture-perfect setting that politicians crave. But it's worth noting that protection of the lake has been a priority now for only the past 35 years, whereas exploitation of the lake was the priority for a century prior.


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