Silver Lining: Travel Ban Could Significantly Improve Tahoe’s Water Clarity

At the outset of the Coronavirus outbreak in California, the visitor’s bureaus in the Tahoe asked people not to visit the area. Then the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Tahoe Resource Conservation District announced it would be closing the inspection stations at all boat launches, effectively closing down the lake to any motorized boats not already on the water.

While people sit desperately idle in their homes as the shelter-in-place mandate remains in effect until the end of April, we might be able to some find silver linings in this otherwise dim time. Reports have shown an improvement in water quality in the canals of Venice, Italy following their stay-at-home mandates, and with little activity on Lake Tahoe, officials hope to see the same result on Northern California’s beloved lake.

There are many environmental benefits from a lack of human activity on our beloved outdoor destinations, especially on Lake Tahoe, which could use this quiet time to natural clean its water that has seen a reduction in clarity over recent years.

“This is a real opportunity for us to reflect on how we travel, what we buy, what we need to survive and when this is over, hopefully we’ll carry over the good stuff,” said Jesse Patterson, Chief Strategy Officer for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, to The Union.

Lake Tahoe has a unique location within the mountains that maintains its clarity through even the highest tourist traffic. Most of the precipitation in the area falls directly on the lake, allowing it to naturally filter the water through the nearby marshes and meadows and keeping the clean water right in the middle. While the lake’s water clarity sat at 100 feet in 1968 (meaning you could see 100 down into the water), today the lake’s clarity is only at 60 feet due to recent drought conditions and human activity on the lake.

But with a break from the typical bustling activity on Lake Tahoe, we could see that clarity improve for the first time since 2014.

Lake Tahoe water clarity numbers from Keep Tahoe Blue

Of course, the lack of tourist activity on the Tahoe area also comes with its share of pitfalls, including a possible economic slowdown that could decrease funding for places like Keep Tahoe Blue and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

“A strain on local businesses and families can lead to slower progress on environmental redevelopment and reduced revenue for partner agencies and organizations,” said Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Public Information Officer Jeff Cowen to The Union That’s potentially the greatest environmental impact of a prolonged quarantine.”

We are certainly headed for an economic downturn that could be devastating to Northern California communities, but a small benefit to these murky times could be some restoration of outdoor destinations. In 1871, Mark Twain called Lake Tahoe “surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.” Maybe people staying in their homes will help that picture be even more beautiful in the years to come.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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