STATELINE - The private sector will have to take responsibility for environmental restoration projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to the congressional delegates and state leaders.
With the White House projecting a $1.65 trillion spike in the deficit this year, the theme at Monday's 16th annual Lake Tahoe Summit was the relationship between the public and private sectors and how agencies and organizations in the basin can collaborate to achieve economic and environmental health.
"First of all, we're citizens," said California Gov. Jerry Brown after the event. "And whether we have a private business, we're taxpayers. We've got to have government and the private sector. Washington is in deep financial trouble, so we need those who have the money in their business to help us out through the Tahoe Fund."
The Tahoe Fund is a nonprofit corporation founded in 2010 that aims to privately fund environmental projects around the basin with an emphasis on conservation, recreation and education, Tahoe Fund Vice President Allen Biaggi said at the summit.
For the second year in a row, both Brown, a Democrat, and Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval came to the summit. The governors were joined at Edgewood Tahoe by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
All the speakers commented on the need for collaboration not only between public and private sectors but between the political parties and the states, as well, to preserve water clarity and protect Tahoe from invasive species.
Part of that collaboration includes updating the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Regional Plan for the first time since 1987.
The current revisions come on the heels of Nevada Senate Bill 271, approved by Sandoval last year, which provides for the withdrawal of Nevada from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency if three central issues are not addressed. According to the Tahoe Project website, those issues include revising the regional plan document, the TRPA voting structure and recognizing the importance of economics in the basin.
Both Sandoval and Heller said that they don't anticipate Nevada making good on the threat of pulling out of the agency. The legislation started the conversation, and now the reforms are starting, Heller said.
"The threat was out there, and I think the good news was that it helped people come to their senses that more needs to be done, and it needs to be done in a way that we have economic prosperity as well as environmental prosperity," Heller said after the summit.
For Sandoval, updating the plan will play a major role in keeping the states united.
"We get that regional plan adopted by the TRPA, and that will go a long way toward keeping Nevada in the agreement," Sandoval said.
In his official remarks, McClintock said that he doesn't think regional agencies such as the TRPA and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board give enough consideration to the economy when it comes to decision-making in the basin, drawing applause from the audience.
"Nowhere in TRPA's mission statement is there a word about the economy. The Tahoe citizens who call my office complain of being thwarted in their attempts to protect their property from fire danger, or to make minor or harmless improvements in their home, or of being denied simple permits by boards they can't even elect. They feel they've lost control of their own communities to state and regional agencies that are utterly unresponsive to the people who actually live here," McClintock said.
Without a real focus on the economy, there won't be a private sector to help restore the lake, McClintock said.
"People are fleeing Lake Tahoe, and a lot of them are heading to the Nevada desert. No conceivable act of God could possibly turn this beautiful lake into a less desirable place for people to live than the middle of the Nevada desert. Only acts of government can do that kind of damage," he said.
Also at the summit, Brown launched a website to document the effects of climate change and respond to those who question it, calling them climate change "denialists."
The Democratic governor said in a statement that climate change has irrevocably altered Lake Tahoe. He cited a 2005 study that found the lake warming at almost twice the rate of the world's oceans and a 2010 study that predicted earlier snowmelt with more runoff in the Tahoe basin and more severe droughts by the end of the century.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have reported that climate change will irreversibly alter water circulation there, changing the conditions for plants and fish.
"It is just one example of how, after decades of pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humanity is getting dangerously close to the point of no return," Brown said in a statement. "Those who still deny global warming's existence should wake up and honestly face the facts."
The governor's Office of Planning and Research will manage the climate change website, http://bit.ly/Qvp35K .
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.