If you watched The Godfather Part II, you may recall the wonderful scenes of an unspoiled Lake Tahoe. In the 1974 Academy Award winning film, the Corleone family plots a lot of its nefarious business at its lakeside mansion. And in the movie’s penultimate scene Michael’s brother Fredo is murdered while fishing on the isolated lake.
Set in the early 1940’s, The Godfather represented Lake Tahoe as it truly was. Since then however, Lake Tahoe has become an overdeveloped tourist haven with casinos, restaurants, box stores, luxury hotels, condos and single family homes that have all but destroyed its ambiance. Millions visit Lake Tahoe each year. The traffic along South Lake Tahoe’s main drag rivals Los Angeles’ at rush hour.
Census Bureau statistics confirm Lake Tahoe’s growth. In the last decade, Tahoe’s population has doubled. During the same ten year period, the two states that straddle the lake, California and Nevada, have experienced similarly explosive growth. California has added five million people; Nevada’s population has increased by 35 percent.
Given what we know about the harmful effects of overpopulation and the relentless growth pattern in California and Nevada, Tuesday’s Lake Tahoe “summit meeting” with governors Jerry Brown and Brian Sandoval may be just more political posturing. At the meeting, also attended by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid, Brown and Sandoval announced that they have entered into a pact with the federal government to improve the lake’s clarity by half a foot a year for the next 65 years. The agreement’s goal is to make the lake visible to a depth of 100 feet by reducing the amount of fine sediment that enters the water each day. The Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the project. Automobiles, especially gas guzzlers like SUV’s, cause most of the sediment.
According to EPA regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld: “It’s not by any means an easy goal but we all agree it’s an achievable goal.” [Lake Tahoe 54-Year Pact Made to Improve Clarity, by Wayatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle, August 17, 2011]
But a clearer, cleaner lake isn’t even remotely possible unless growth is checked. And that may not be forthcoming. A new law Sandoval signed would withdraw Nevada from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency that seeks to create sustainable communities through land use regulations.
The environmental effects of too many people, unmentioned during the “summit,” must be addressed. Agreements between governments, as well intended as they may be, aren’t substitutes for meaningful strategies to control population growth.