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Learn how a diverse group is solving a decades-old controversy at the lake.

By Whip Villarreal
Photo from iStock

The Lake Tahoe Shoreline Plan, designed by a coalition of stakeholders comprised of homeowners, government entities and environmentalists, is a strategy that protects 72 miles of shoreline while also improving the recreational experience.

If adopted before the end of this year and implemented in 2019, as expected, it would lift a moratorium on new shoreline structures such as ramps, piers and buoys that has been in place for more than 30 years.

The proposal would authorize up to 128 piers (of which 10 are public), 1,430 new buoys and a reserve pool of 630 buoys or boat slips by public agencies and marinas. The plan also enforces a 600-foot no-wake zone around the lake that would extend to include all of Emerald Bay in order to prevent and limit shoreline erosion.

However, the plan is designed as a gradual permitting process for the development of shoreline structures, meaning they wouldn’t be approved or built all at once. Instead, it would authorize 12 pier applications every two years. After six years, regulators would revisit the plan to see if the number of authorizations needs adjustment to address concerns of potential drought conditions, low lake levels and possible negative impacts to the environment stemming from climate change.

“Getting up to that 128 new private piers number would take 20-plus years,” says Tom Lotshaw, public information officer with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “The permitting is more for the private piers and the plan is encouraging prioritizing public piers and then multi-use piers. So say if two or three… lakefront owners were going in on one pier project, those kinds of things would have priority in terms of the application process, as opposed to just the private single-use piers that would only serve one property owner.”

Lotshaw says there would also be a program in place that distributes the piers around the lake by quadrant and counties, so not all of them would be located in one area. It also takes into consideration conserving and maintaining the environment, with limitations on where piers can be built based on what are deemed “environmentally sensitive areas” needed to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

“We have environmental thresholds that we have to maintain for the lake and we do threshold evaluations every four to five years, so we have to evaluate this (program) to some degree periodically,” says Rebecca Cremeen, senior planner for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and project manager for the Shoreline Plan. “If there is anything that is being affected environmentally by this program, I think we would have to adjust it, meaning the proposal could evolve as time moves forward and the program is implemented. The monitoring would make sure the program functions well and provides recreation access to the lake, while protecting the environment and the beauty of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline.”

There are also strategies in the proposal that will allow shoreline structures to adapt during times of low lake levels that may occur in future years. In the last five years, for instance, during one of the most severe droughts in California’s history, water levels at the lake dropped below the natural rim. When that happened, there were many boat ramps, piers and buoys that became inoperative around the lake.

What also sets this new proposal apart is the inclusion of many stakeholders in drafting the plan. The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in 2008, resulting in an ordinance only allowing extensions or modifications of existing piers or buoys. Now they are part of the planning process and have contributed hundreds of hours of discussions and different points of view. This inclusiveness has allowed all sides to reach a compromise.

“We’ve been under moratorium for more than 30 years and so this is something we’ve been working toward for decades,” says Jan Brisco, executive director of the Tahoe Lakefront Owners Association. “We think we have a good plan that has been consensus-based and that worked collaboratively to come up with the proposals that really offer the lake good protections and a lot of mitigations and programs that will actually benefit Lake Tahoe. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone as far as we are concerned.”

The League to Save Lake Tahoe echoed those same sentiments.“We are supportive of the iteration as proposed currently because there has been a lot of give and take and we feel confident that the majority of our concerns have been addressed with one caveat,” says Darcie Goodman Collins, Executive Director of The League To Save Lake Tahoe. “We are still going through the environmental documents and there are a couple of items that we are still negotiating. But I’m confident we’ll be able to address our remaining concerns and will be supportive of this plan.”

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