League works 50 years to Keep Tahoe Blue | NevadaAppeal.com

League works 50 years to Keep Tahoe Blue

Dan Thrift
Nevada Appeal News Service

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – You see them everywhere: Stickers, T-shirts and even Frisbees with the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s mantra, “Keep Tahoe Blue.”

The League has succeeded in spreading the word, knowing education is the key to the lake’s future.

Established in 1957 as the Tahoe Improvement and Conservation Association by a group of wealthy lakefront property owners, the organization’s focus was initially divided between establishing state parks in the basin and controlling regional development, according to Rochelle Nason, the League’s executive director.

In the 1950s and early ’60s, development was largely unchecked, with authorities in the five counties that share the basin having complete control over all growth. The Tahoe Regional Planning Commission (forefather of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency but with no enforcement powers) created a plan in 1964 to envision what Tahoe would look like in 1980.

Some of the commission’s ideas included a four-lane highway around the lake, a major bridge spanning Emerald Bay, a freeway on the South Shore, new casino districts around the lake and an artificial island in the south, all presuming up to 300 percent growth in the number of permanent residents and annual visitors.

The aggressive plan spurred the association into action. The group began advocating for more balanced planning and greater control of development. Soon after changing its name, the League began drawing attention to the problem at state and national levels. In 1969, its work paid off with the congressional passage of the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact, which created today’s Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“The situation had gotten so bad that two governors (Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt and California Gov. Ronald Reagan) and a president (Richard Nixon), who were not known as environmentalists, had to step in,” said former U.S. congressman and current TRPA board member Jerry Waldie. “Local governments could not be trusted to protect a national environmental treasure.”

In 1980, the TRPA published its first 20-year plan, and the League was critical.

“The TRPA was seeking to accelerate development on the theory that the additional development would be beneficial to the environment,” Nason said. “We very much disagreed with the agency’s approach, and the dispute ended up in court.”

From the court case came an injunction on all forms of development around the lake, including renovations and repairs, a ban that was not lifted until 1987.

Through it all, the League’s goal was always the same. “Over the years, the League has been the dominant force for educating the public in the problems facing Lake Tahoe and what’s necessary in protecting the lake,” said Charles Goldman, a University of California, Davis, professor and limnologist. “For a small organization, they’ve developed into an extremely powerful action group promoting conservation of the lake for this and future generations.”

The League’s Nason said the group’s efforts have been largely successful in its goal to raise the consciousness of residents and visitors alike.

“As Tahoe has become an international destination, our membership has broadened,” Nason said. “We’ve also been better able to engage the local population who lives here, so our education programs are able to serve the people who live here and the people who enjoy the lake from time to time.”

• Portions of this story came from an August 2007 article by Evan Schladow in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.