Recent Speeches

Senator Feinstein Hosts 12th Annual Tahoe Summit

- Remarks as prepared -

Good morning. It’s great to be back at Lake Tahoe. Let me extend a warm welcome to all of you.  We’re here today to celebrate the achievements of the past decade -- and to rededicate ourselves to continuing this restoration effort for the next decade.

Today you’ll hear from:
  • My co-host, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger;
  • Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, my Majority Leader;
  • Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons; and
  • Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Their presence underscores the deep Commitment, at all levels of government, to restoring Lake Tahoe.  So I want to thank them for coming.

Before we hear from them, I want to share with you my thoughts on the where we are in this great restoration effort.  I believe we are at a critical crossroads.  Move forward and we will continue the good work that has been done over the past dozen years.  Fail to act, and the gains will be lost.

At the Presidential Summit in 1997, we forged an enduring partnership, with a singular goal – to Keep Tahoe Blue.  The commitments made then have largely been fulfilled – and over $1.2 billion has been invested.  The results are tangible.  A clearer lake.  Less sedimentation.  Meadows and streams restored. Pollution reduced.  Roads improved. In total, some 270 capital projects are underway, and many more are in the pipeline.

Yet, the gains are fragile.  The work is not complete by a long shot.

The traditional threats – sedimentation, pollution, and algae growth – endure, and require ongoing, sustained attention.  And new challenges – in the form of global warming and catastrophic fire – have emerged as major threats. If we stop now, the gains that have been made could be lost.

So I’m calling on all the partners here – Federal, State, Local, and Private – to renew their commitment to this great lake and continue the restoration effort.

We cannot stop now.  We must move forward to the next phase of the restoration effort.
A new study on the State of the Lake by Dr. Geoffrey Shladow, who you will hear from, and the researchers at UC Davis underscores the fragility of the gains. The study paints a picture of a dynamic ecosystem that is responding to the restoration work that has been done.

The clearest indicator of this is Lake Clarity.  The report found that clarity is up:

  • As a result of our efforts, Tahoe’s water clarity is improving.  Last year we could see down 70.1 feet. That’s an increase of 2.4 feet over 2006 and more than 6 feet more than when it hit its low in 1997.
  • And over the past 7 years, clarity has been better that predicted, and decline has slowed significantly.

That’s good news and is a positive indicator that restoration effort is moving in the right direction.  Yet, the report shines a light on the serious long-term challenges that remain.  Here’s just two examples:

  • Tahoe’s urban areas contribute 72% of particulates that flow into the lake, the single most important factor in determining clarity. This suggests that erosion control is vital to continuing to improve lake clarity, particularly in urban areas.
  • Long-term algae growth in the lake - a major contributor to its loss of clarity - has steadily increased since scientists first started measuring it annually in 1968. So this must be an area of continued attention.

So these two areas, along with hazardous fuels reduction, will form the nucleus of a new bill to reauthorize the Restoration Act.  Additionally, the report found that Lake Tahoe is feeling the effects of global warming.

  • Daily minimum air temperatures have increased by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 97 years.  This points to more rain and less snow in the future.
  • And peak snow melt averages are occurring 2 ½ weeks earlier than in the early 1960s—roughly from June 3rd to May 15th

So global warming will have a major impact – adding to the risk of fire and moving more sediment into the Lake.  So the bottom line is that restoration efforts must be continued.  We must build on the successful efforts of the past 10 years.

Over this time, the investment has been substantial, and includes:

  • $348.6 million by the federal government, to design and complete environmental projects;
  • $519 million by the state of California – with roughly half going to retrofit state highways to capture runoff;
  • $87 million by the state of Nevada – with the lion’s share going to stormwater treatment on highways and roads;
  • $56.8 million by local governments; and
  • $233 million by the private sector.

In all, it’s a total investment of more than $1.2 billion.  And we’re making progress on a range of projects.  

  • We’ve improved 27,450 acres of wildlife habitat – including investing $12 million to restore the Upper Truckee River watershed, to reduce sediment into the Lake. And $1.3 million to facilitate the recovery of the Tahoe Yellow Cress -- a plant that grows no place else on earth.
  • We’ve invested $52 million to reduce hazardous fuels on 21,203 acres of forestland. This work is vital to reducing the risk of wildfires.
  • And we’ve treated more than 1,000 acres of stormwater runoff.

Yet all these gains are threatened by catastrophic wildfire. Fortunately, it appears that we have escaped long-term impacts to lake clarity after the Angora Fire.  But a catastrophic fire here – and the subsequent impact on the Lake from ash, debris and sedimentation – could set efforts back years.

I shudder to think what can happen if we don’t move aggressively to build the firebreaks, remove the dead, dying and down trees, and clean out as much underbrush as possible.

Our forests are up to six times denser than they should be. The basin is hot and dry.  It’s a tinderbox. Lives, property, and wildlands are at risk.

The Governor has declared this great basin in high threat of catastrophic fire.

Governors Schwarzenegger and Gibbons have created the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission, which has agreed on steps to reduce the wildfire danger.  

In March, the Commission recommended a disaster declaration – to be able to act quickly on fire-prevention efforts, including thinning overgrown forests of dead, dying and downed trees.  And in June, Governors Schwarzenegger and Gibbons declared a state of emergency, indicating that the Tahoe Basin was in serious threat of catastrophic fire.

Additionally, the seven fire chiefs, the U.S. Forest Service, and the California and Nevada forest agencies have developed a Wildfire Prevention Plan for the next 10 years.

Many of these representatives are here today, and I’d like to introduce them:

  • Chief Duane Whitlaw, North Tahoe Fire Protection District
  • Chief Mike Brown, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District
  • Chief Guy LeFevre, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District
  • Chief Jeff Michael, Lake Valley Fire Protection District
  • Chief John Pang, Meeks Bay Fire Protection District
  • Chief Lorenzo Gigliotti, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department
  • Chief Chris Sauer, Fallen Leaf Fire Department
  • Jim Pena, the Deputy Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service;
  • Terri Marceron, Forest Supervisor Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
  • John Singlaub, Executive Director, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency  
  • Allen Biaggi, Director, Department of Conservation and Natural     Resources, Nevada
  • Mike Chrisman, Secretary, CA Dept. of Resources
The plan that they have put together recognizes that there are three components to effective wildfire protection in the Basin:

  • Buildings and homes must be constructed with fire-resistant materials.
  • Defensible spaces must be created in areas immediately adjacent to communities.
  • And brush must be removed from the forest around homes.

And the federal government must play its part.  Eighty percent of the forests in this basin are on federal lands.  Hazardous fuels removal must become a top priority of our federal legislation – particularly on the western side of the lake, where the prevailing winds move a fire rapidly into populated areas.

Hazardous fuels from the forests that come to within a quarter-mile of our communities must be removed quickly.  This is essential.

Second, a biomass plant that can use brush and other flammable materials to generate energy must be built.  So, I’ve included $1.5 million in the ’09 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for a biomass facility here in the Basin in Placer County.

And third, the federal government must help with grants to Fire Safe Councils and other homeowner groups, to help them with the critical work of removing hazardous fuels.  The land sale dollars from Nevada have been extremely helpful in this regard.

And I thank both Senator Reid and Senator Ensign for assuring $187.1 million thus far from Southern Nevada land sales, for Lake Tahoe restoration and hazardous fuels removal.

With these goals in mind, I will – along with my Senate colleagues from California and Nevada – introduce legislation next year to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act for another 10 years.

We will count on you to help push it through.

Our bill will:

  • Continue the Environmental Improvement Program;
  • Reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the Basin; and
  • Continue the push to improve water clarity in the Lake to 80 feet within 10 years.

These will be the three goals of the legislation.

I came to Lake Tahoe when I was a young girl.  I rode horses through these forests.  I swam in the Lake.  I biked around it.  Its stunning beauty and its crystal clear clarity have brought visitors from around the world.  Yet, the increased numbers of people brought pollution, development, and new threats to the Lake.

It is our job, our duty, to be stewards of this lake and restore it to its former glory.  That’s our mission and that will be our legacy.