Environmentalists are hoping the 20th anniversary of the Tahoe summit, and a visit by President Obama, will renew the spotlight on conservation efforts at the lake. As Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports, despite progress, the threat of climate change looms large.
Jesse Patterson is deputy director of the nonprofit group the League To Save Lake Tahoe, also known as Keep Tahoe Blue. He's steering his boat through the Tahoe Keys, on the South Shore, and pointing to invasive Eurasian watermilfoil growing thick, slimy and green throughout the marina.
"That's part of the problem with plants, is if they're ignored, they get really bad and become a problem," he says.
Patterson and other environmentalists are trying to combat these invasive plants, in addition to other projects to help lake clarity, which has improved dramatically over the last two decades.
"In '97 when the first presidential summit happened, and Clinton and Gore were here, it was the worst clarity of Lake Tahoe in its recorded history,” says Patterson. “Twenty years later, we've arrested that decline."
That's because the summit led to the first Tahoe Restoration Act, which provided more than $300 million over nine years for conservation. That act has been up for reauthorization since 2010, but has languished in Congress over the last few years.
Patterson says President Obama's speech on Wednesday could spur action, which is needed to mitigate the impacts of global warming.
"The biggest threat is climate change, really, and the unknowns that come with it,” says Patterson. “Warmer waters, longer growing season for aquatic invasives and algae, and more rain than snow. Basically, it's the same impacts we were seeing in '97, just exacerbated."
If passed, the latest iteration of the Tahoe Restoration Act would provide about $415 million in federal spending at Lake Tahoe over the next decade.