Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today delivered remarks at the first-ever virtual and 24th annual Lake Tahoe Summit, highlighting the importance of maintaining the lake’s resilience and strengthening the communities that depend on it. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery.
We gather today, as we have each year for nearly a quarter century, to rededicate ourselves to working together to protect this incredible lake and the life that depends on it.
As the name of this year’s summit reminds us, Tahoe is strong and resilient. Born from a lava flow that cut off the Truckee River, the lake here is 24 million years old. It’s withstood flames and floods, drought and disaster.
And the enduring beauty of this place is even more important as Americans cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Like so many Nevadans, I’m relying on the healing power of being outdoors right now, whether to enjoy a sunset, tend to a garden, or walk off the cares of the day.
Natural places like Tahoe give us relief from screens and scrolling. They remind us that just as nature is resilient, so are we, and we can get through hard times.
But just because Tahoe is resilient doesn’t mean its strength is limitless. This year, Tahoe had more visitors in April than it usually has in the high season in July.
The COVID-19 crisis has helped remind us how valuable the outdoors is to our health—emotional, physical, and spiritual. And that’s exactly why we need to work even more diligently to protect open spaces and those who work to maintain them.
We need to strengthen the lake—and the communities that depend on it—so that it can endure the challenges of the future.
One of the biggest of those challenges is the climate crisis. We’re already seeing the changes that are going to make Nevada and California hotter, drier, and more prone to wildfires.
The climate crisis threatens all of us. It’s going to take a toll on our health, as more Nevadans feel the impact of hot days and heat stroke.
It will cost our economy, too, from its effects on our recreation and tourism industries to the costs to farmers and ranchers.
And all these impacts fall hardest on the most vulnerable in our communities—seniors, children, and communities of color especially.
Plastics are another burden on the lake, as the Desert Research Institute and the League to Save Lake Tahoe explained at last year’s summit.
Even our admiration for this place challenges it. The many people who are drawn to Tahoe by the beauty of its landscape also put pressure on the lake, its small towns, and the surrounding ecosystem.
Newcomers to Tahoe may not know how to move through it without leaving traces, which is why education about native wildlife and how to care for nature is so important. Long-time residents and visitors alike contribute to traffic and pollution.
So our job is to continue work—not just on the waters of the lake itself, but also the surrounding environment, its creatures, and its people.
We need to make sure that everyone can enjoy Tahoe. That means that those who work and live in the lake’s communities have affordable housing options, up-to-date transportation to get around, and good-paying jobs.
Through my Innovation State Initiative, I’m pushing for more resources to help workers who want to work in a changing economy. I’m advocating for 21st century solutions to decrease congestion on roads, encourage electric vehicles, and develop the infrastructure to support smart growth. In making all of these policies, I consider how they can promote resiliency at Tahoe.
I’m also working to increase investment in affordable housing and all kinds of clean energy technologies. And I want to help fund the infrastructure we need to support innovative public works projects.
All this is easier when we rely on cutting-edge technology to help us develop new solutions, like University of Nevada, Reno’s ALERTWildfire program, which uses cameras to remotely monitor for wildfires. I’m proud to have urged federal agencies to release $350,000 in grant money to UNR for that program. Many other organizations are pushing hard on innovations of their own. They’re harnessing the power of science and technology to monitor and improve the natural environment.
Scientists at the Desert Research Institute are working to learn exactly how plastic microfibers are reaching the lake’s waters so that we can prevent that pollution stream.
The Tahoe Conservancy is using new, environmentally-friendly building technologies to construct affordable housing units in South Lake Tahoe.
The Environment Venture Trust Fund has provided seed money to study how ultra-violet light could combat invasive aquatic weeds without harming other creatures.
And the Smartest Forest Fund has also supported pilot projects that investigate new uses of technology, including using audio equipment to find and monitor endangered spotted owls.
But good old-fashioned people power helps, too. The Tahoe Blue Crew sponsors community volunteers who pick up trash and discourage littering.
And the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the lead government agency in charge of environmental programs for the lake, has dozens of resources to help residents, businesses, and organizations get involved, including through the Tahoe Basin Sustainable Communities Program.
All of these projects help us protect this lake so that we can continue to enjoy its gifts far into the future. And so that we can honor its historic past with the same reverence and respect the Washoe Natives of Nevada’s Great Basin area have shown it for thousands of years.
I’ve proudly supported legislation to revitalize Tahoe, and I know we can copy the successes we’ve seen right here at the lake across the country. At the federal level, I’m fighting for the future of our natural spaces and the cultural treasures they contain throughout America.
That’s why I voted for the Great American Outdoors Act, which will help maintain and permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, so we can continue to invest in our public lands and our outdoor recreation future.
Just this past Spring, the LWCF contributed funds to support a joint effort of Nevada Division of State Parks and the Tahoe Fund toward developing a new visitor’s center, trails, a new amphitheater, and other infrastructure at Spooner Lake.
As I said earlier, Lake Tahoe is millions of years old. Thousands of years ago—maybe tens of thousands of years ago—humans first arrived here, drawn by the bountiful wildlife and greenery that drew life from its waters. Over time, more people found solace at the Lake, and began to call Tahoe their home.
Humans have taxed Tahoe, but we have also protected it. We get to choose which path to take. The future of this resilient and stunning place is up to us. Let’s work together to make sure its cold, clear waters last another ten thousand years.