Local Impacts of Climate and Drought Spell Change, and Opportunity, for Lake Tahoe

The local effects of climate change are being sorely felt in Northern California’s idyllic Lake Tahoe, with early season closings for several ski resorts, cancellations of snow festivals, ski races and snow boarding competitions, and laid off ski instructors and lift operators. While the ski industry has responded by investing in expensive snow-making operations and beefing up summer activities, concerns remain about whether there will be enough flow in the Truckee River for summer rafting. With last week’s Sierra snowpack at 17 percent of the historic average, water supplies are dwindling and wildfire danger is on the rise not only in Lake Tahoe, but throughout the entire state.

Regional and local government officials are acting to solve these daunting challenges, updating long-term plans to reflect continued warming trends and compressed winter seasons, and leading immediate efforts to address associated increases in algae, invasive species, wildfires, and soot and sediment run-off into the lake. According to Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center, there may be additional pressure on the environment as “climate refugees” move from the Bay Area and Central Valley to the cooler climes of the Sierra. Local leaders will need to plan now for future economic development and the infrastructure and policies to support it.

For leadership guidance about how to prepare, engage, and strengthen communities to manage the local impacts of climate change and the continuing drought, check out ecoAmerica’s reports and how-to resources.

Lake Tahoe: Drought, climate change threatening winter, way of life at iconic landmark

By Julia Prodis SulekSan Jose Mercury News | March 14, 2015 

TAHOE CITY — There’s something disconcerting about life at Lake Tahoe these days.

It’s still winter, but visitors are renting bikes instead of snowshoes and kayaks instead of skis. Come summer — without last-ditch torrential rains — the lake level is expected to be at such a historic low that some marinas will have to dredge for boats to launch. Jumping off the end of a pier could result in a rock-hard landing.

California’s epic drought, entering its perilous fourth year, has combined with a pattern of warming temperatures to cast a “Twilight Zone” quality on one of the state’s most popular winter destinations and iconic landmarks.

“It’s bizarre what people are doing now. It’s so out of season,” said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center and a UC Davis professor. “Years like this are going to become more common.”

In many ways, Lake Tahoe is California’s canary in the coal mine — at 6,200 feet. While our weather can quickly swing from one extreme to the other, the twin realities of the current relentless drought and steady warming over the past century are converging to create a remarkably different experience at the venerable — and vulnerable — lake. Everyone, from environmental agencies to businesses to tourists, is scrambling to adapt.

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