Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 029: Tahoe
JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome to Podship Earth. This is your host, Jared Blumenfeld. When I think about crystal clear waters and the importance of protecting the places we love, I think of Lake Tahoe. I visited this deep Alpine Lake each year for the past 25 years. Last year, the clarity of the lake was at its lowest in its recorded history. Back in the 1960’s, you could see down more than a hundred feet into the cobalt waters. But in 2017, the lake’s clarity had been reduced by more than 40%. We often talk about protecting water in abstract terms. When I was at EPA, there was a move to update a policy called Waters of the United States. It's so much more effective to focus on a particular river, lake, or bay rather than talking about them all lumped together. We only protect the places we love, and so, this week I'm going to focus on a place I love as a way of trying to understand what's been going on and how local leaders are turning the problems around. Lake Tahoe was formed 24 million years ago when the Sierra Nevada mountains were pushed up from the massive tectonic shift. The lake is 22 miles long, has 72 miles of shoreline and has an average depth of 1000 feet making it one of the deepest lakes in the world, along with Lake Baikal in Russia.
More than 10,000 years ago, the Washoe, Maidu, and Paiute Indian tribes came in the summers to Lake Tahoe every year to collect medicinal plants, hunt fish, and create tools from the granite rock. The indigenous communities found spiritual significance in the beauty of the lake. Today, their descendants are forceful advocates in the effort to protect Lake Tahoe. The Washoe word “dao” means lake and is the origin of the name Tahoe. In 2016, President Obama came to Lake Tahoe.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: This place is spectacular because it is one of the highest, deepest, oldest and purest lakes in the world. So, it's no wonder that for thousands of years, this place has been a spiritual one. For the Washoe people, it is the center of their world. And just as this space is sacred to native Americans, it should be sacred to all Americans. And that's why we're here. To protect this special pristine place, to keep these waters crystal clear, to keep the air is pure as the heavens, to keep alive Tahoe’s spirit, and to keep faith with this truth - that the challenges of conservation and combating climate change are connected. They're linked.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And as Governor Jerry Brown explains, the work to protect Lake Tahoe has been bipartisan.
GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: Beauty transcends politics. And the beauty of Lake Tahoe enabled our Republican Governor Ronald Reagan and Governor Laxalt in Nevada, and today, myself a Democrat, governor Sandoval, a Republican, we work very closely because we have a higher cause. And a cause that transcends the petty issues that often divide our political parties.
JARED BLUMENFELD: In order to get a clearer understanding of the issues facing Lake Tahoe, I decided to bike the 75 miles around Lake Tahoe with Jack Landy, who's an avid cyclist and has spent the last 16 years working on Lake Tahoe restoration. I then talk with Darcie Goodman Collins who runs Keep Tahoe Blue. And finally, I meet up with George Gogolev to talk about how similar challenges are now confronting Russia's Lake Baikal. Jack and I meet up early in the morning to start our journey around the lake. So, Jack and I are in the car park in King's Beach putting our bikes together. It's about 38 degrees. It's freezing. Jack, are you excited?
JACK LANDY: Very much.
JARED BLUMENFELD: You've done this before though?
JACK LANDY: Never from north shore. Only from south shores.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Okay.
JACK LANDY: This will be a new departure point, but the same loop.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, 77 miles. Cold day. We'll make it.
JACK LANDY: Perfect.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what should we know about Kings Beach?
JACK LANDY: Kings Beach is an interesting community. It was one of the highest polluting places and now the stretch of highway along the waterfront has been restored because they've done a lot of effort to control sediment runoff into the lake. And as a result, I think it's given a facelift to the whole town. And I think the place is looking and feeling nicer than I remember it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, we’ve been biking for about how long? Two hours. How are we doing?
JACK LANDY: I think we're doing great. How are you feeling?
JARED BLUMENFELD: Good. I mean my lungs are like completely burning because it was so cold to begin with.
JACK LANDY: The altitude.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah, the attitude less. It was just the cold air when you suck it in when you're going uphill.
JACK LANDY: Yeah, mine too actually. Like I said, it's the first time I've ever done that climb in the shade because it's morning, and because of the traffic stop it was really quite light. So, I think we had the best of both worlds here. It was great.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And how much did we climb? Is that the biggest climb of the day?
JACK LANDY: It's the biggest climb. I was just trying to figure the feet out. And in the lakes at 6220 and the pass is maybe a 1000 to 1200 feet above that.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So how far are we now from South Lake?
JACK LANDY: About five miles north. Getting close.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And then when we get into South Lake, it is pretty developed.
JACK LANDY: Yes. Yes. So, I'll try and steer us on to bike lanes. And there's plenty more construction. They say in Tahoe there's two seasons. There's winter and construction season, so there'll be a bit of a mess going through town.
JARED BLUMENFELD: There's nothing here in Nevada. It's incredible.
JACK LANDY: It is. It is. I mean it is fancy homes along the lake or up on the hills above the highway. And then there's that long stretch that we just wrote rode, which where the highway goes inland around what's now a state park. And that's really pristine land.
JARED BLUMENFELD: There was really no, no development, no houses, just nature.
JACK LANDY: Yeah. Yeah. And, of course, we do have Emerald Bay on the other side. That's California's crown jewel in the crown, I guess. So, there will be no, no development along there. But then north of that you get the so-called Gold Coast and then various small communities. It's not heavily developed. The population of the basins only about 50,000.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That's incredible. What's the summertime population?
JACK LANDY: They've just revised the annual visitation numbers up from what they thought was going to be was around three to 5 million to 20 to 25 million based on cell phone data. Just aggregate numbers of visitors.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That's a large margin of error. From three to 22 million.
JACK LANDY: Yes, yes. Everybody was quite shocked and now they're taking stock and the transportation planners are going back to the drawing board and doing some serious rethinking of how to manage that huge population, half of which is just daytime visitors who don't stay the night.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Cool. Let's keep peddling. Here comes another bicyclist. Actually, this is the first bicyclist we've seen. How much has been spent on cleaning up Lake Tahoe on all these different projects over the years?
JACK LANDY: Over the past 20 years, we've just passed $2 billion, I think.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Incredible. What would a project look like to help lake clarity?
JACK LANDY: Well, the two main sources of sediment that are clouding the clarity of Lake Tahoe are urban runoff, so a major kind-
JARED BLUMENFELD: What's urban runoff?
JACK LANDY: Urban storm water runoff is what washes off the roads that ring the lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It's washing off into the lake.
JACK LANDY: The research showed that the main pollutant clouding the lake-
JARED BLUMENFELD: We are missing turns because the podcast is taking us on the wrong turn. So, what would wash into the lake from the parking lot?
JACK LANDY: Well, mostly it's the very fine sediment that's been pulverized by all the tires that are parking in those parking lots and shedding their sediment.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, there's enough of this tiny, teeny little sediment that when it goes into the lake, it causes it to no longer be clear? That's amazing.
JACK LANDY: It is amazing. And that was a kind of a surprise to the researchers who were trying to figure out how to restore lake clarity. They originally thought that it was algae that was clouding the lake and turning it green. But really the research showed that as well as the algae, it's microscopically fine sentiment.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Thinner than a human hair. Right?
JACK LANDY: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What would a project do to stop that fine sediment going from a parking lot into the lake?
JACK LANDY: The project would first have to capture the runoff. So, there's a lot of gutters and pipes and culverts and basically infrastructure going in on the sides of roads, which were originally not designed with any of that in mind.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, these meadows are really great for collecting sediment. One of the projects I remember you and I visited was like a meadow restoration that helps collect all that teeny fine sediment and it looks so beautiful right here.
JACK LANDY: It is an open meadow right next to the lake. There is a beautiful stream running through it and we can see the willows. They're growing along the side of the stream bank.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And then how long have you lived here at Jack?
JACK LANDY: I've been here 16 years now. I've had great privilege.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And is it a nice place to raise your kids and to live the year in, year out?
JACK LANDY: Just about the best that I've ever lived in.
JARED BLUMENFELD: But we don't want to tell too many people that because they'll all come here.
JACK LANDY: No, I think it's good for environmentally conscious people to come and settle here. That's the hope that that will lead to lake restoration as well. That the local people and the visitors will ultimately support the investments that are needed to, the relatively modest investments I might add, just to bring us back to the original lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, Jack, now we're right by the casinos, these huge buildings in front of us. It's kind of bizarre that Lake Tahoe would have this pristine outdoors feeling and then bam! It's just bizarre.
JACK LANDY: I couldn't agree more.
JARED BLUMENFELD: When did they go in?
JACK LANDY: They were among the original engines of development here.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, they like in the fifties?
JACK LANDY: It was the forties and fifties when those big boxes came in and they originally intended to have many more. But as soon as the environmental movement took hold up here, they put an end to those.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Good God. So, are they going to stay forever?
JACK LANDY: I mean it seems like it. Overall. Lake Tahoe is switching to a much younger group of visitors who are more into outdoor recreation. I wouldn't say I hope over time that they'll disappear all-together, but I think they'll become more of a smaller niche and that the larger economy will be more in tune with the natural amenities.
JARED BLUMENFELD: They look like they are kind of crumbling. I mean they're not, they're not in their hay day.
JACK LANDY: No, they are sort of a historical relic. They're not harming anything and as long as they don't literally wash into the lake, we're okay with them.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And the amount of traffic right here, is this normal?
JACK LANDY: I'm afraid it is. It seems like this summer in particular has seen an uptick.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Well, that number, you gave upwards of 20 million visitors in one year when they thought it was 3 million and there's only 50,000 people that live here.
JACK LANDY: I basically try and avoid town downtown as much as I can during the summer months.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Let's, let's keep going. Where are we going next?
JACK LANDY: Well, we're going make our way through south shore and then turn up the West shore and maybe next stop would be on Emerald Bay.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Cool. We just climbed out of South Lake Tahoe. The sun's come out. A little less traffic, but what you really notice, Jack, is the burnt trees. Tell us about the fire.
JACK LANDY: Right. Well, this is our most recent large-scale fire and it has a pretty dramatic story. It started in October 2016 on a late night, very windy episode when I think the story is that branches fell on some power lines and started the fire.
JARED BLUMENFELD: An all too familiar story nowadays.
JACK LANDY: That's right. Could have been a whole lot worse. But what followed was five to seven inches of rain over the next two or three days. This totally put the fire out. Caused however, some tremendous runoff of sediment onto this highway, this very highway. The highway actually acted as a protection to the lake from that sediment just going straight down because the lake is right behind us.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Normally, you wouldn't think of a highway doing much useful, but it stopped all the sediment cause the lake is just below us. It's amazing. If you turn around Jack, how far the fire went down, I mean nearly to the rim, to those houses.
JACK LANDY: But it is a minor miracle what happened. They supposedly collected 250 truckloads of sediment off this highway and tracked it away. Yup. Yup. If that rain hadn't happened, this fire might have burned all the way to Emerald Bay.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We're now in Tahoe city, which is on the north shore. We went past the Gold Coast. I'm an exhausted. We got 10 more miles to go. The best news of the day is that we found poke, so now we are refueled. How are you doing Jack?
JACK LANDY: Doing great, thanks. Made in the shade.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Yeah, we're in the shade right now, which is also, it suddenly it went from 34 degrees when we left to is probably like 70. Yeah, 75. Lot of cars. I know I keep saying this, but it's kind of astounding. Maybe if we were in Yosemite, we'd be saying the same thing. To me, Lake Tahoe is a national park in everything but name and just the number of people that come. And I mean right now we'd be going much faster on our bikes then we would in a car. I like your idea of fairies.
JACK LANDY: Yeah, that's aways off.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us about the invasive species.
JACK LANDY: Eurasian watermilfoil. It went unintended for decades unfortunately.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And what does it look like?
JACK LANDY: It looks like it looks like a bottlebrush or some kind of slimy weed that grows from the bottom sub straight up to the surface and just kind of spreads out from there. Every little segment or fragment of this weed can colonize a fresh spot.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Like the Zombie apocalypse.
JACK LANDY: Exactly. That's precisely what's happened.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you cut one head off and ten more grow.
JACK LANDY: Exactly. And it's possible to smother them with tarps on the bottom of the lake and eradicate them out way. But it's a bit of a losing battle it seems like, or it's a very expensive battle at the very least. We have the Asian clams. And we so far do not have quagga mussels. Those have wrecked havoc with Lake Meadand a number of other places sort of marching across the country from the east coast. And, so far, we've managed to keep those out and it's to the tune of $4 million a year, to keep that kind of thing going at all the different places around the lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What happens when the Quagga Mussel infests an area?
JACK LANDY: It apparently can just wreck havoc with recreational beaches. Just turn them into expanses of sharp-edged shells that are in very unpleasant to walk on. As far as infrastructure is concerned, they literally coat the pipes that might be used to take water out of a water body. They’ll completely wreck treatment plants that treat water for public consumption.
JARED BLUMENFELD: If you saw this in a science fiction movie, like I don't know, I remember reading Day of the Triffids, like these plants taking over?
JACK LANDY: Yes. It's a byproduct of globalization, I guess that needs to be accounted for it, I think people are realizing that there is a heavy cost associated with these invasions and that's the reason why the Quagga Mussel has been fought and its introduction into Lake Tahoe has been fought so hard. It would have very serious impacts on our $5 billion largely tourist-based economy up here.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How are you doing physically? Bizarrely, the bottom of my feet, like I have these clip in shoes.
JACK LANDY: In my case it's my back, but I'll make it, I'm fine.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We're both going to make it unless we get hit by a Mack truck. When should people do this bike ride? Cause I wouldn't recommend they do it exactly the time we've done it.
JACK LANDY: No, I agree. Basically, summer is off limits. It’s the fall saddle season as they call it; after Labor Day and before Veterans’ Day is kind of ideal.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Here we go. We're back. We did it, baby. Jack, we did it.
JACK LANDY: Did you do Tahoe or did Tahoe do you?
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tahoe definitely did me. To me, the best part of the day easily was the Nevada side because they had that road, that construction.
JACK LANDY: Yeah.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That stopped all the cars and it felt like the road was hours.
JACK LANDY: Yes, yes. And so, the early morning hours, whenever I'm able to drag myself out of bed, that's always the most rewarding.
JARED BLUMENFELD: It’s just such a bizarre conglomeration like literally you said, the trailer parks right here in Kings Beach and then there's Larry Ellison's billion-dollar home with a sweet Olympic size swimming pool just down the road. And then you go a little bit further, and all of Nevada is preserved and then you get south lake and the state line, and it's just massive casinos. And then did it just kind of keeps going like that. It's a slice of everything.
JACK LANDY: As you said earlier, it should be a national park and hopefully most people who come here think of it as such. And I think the modern visitor has more of that ethic of enjoying it for the pristine nature.
JARED BLUMENFELD: There are a lot of Chevy Tahoes. I noticed, like I never thought about it, there's massive SUV’s driving along, nearly hitting us off our teeny little bikes. And then you look, and it says on the back “Tahoe.”
JACK LANDY: They like to come home here. What’s seriously being considered, I think by some people now, is an entry fee to the basin. So that will start to give people that sense that they're entering a special place and it'll create revenue for some of the additional measures.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I mean even if it was $5.
JACK LANDY: And just do it from the license plate, you know, or fast track type of thing.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We have the technology. We should use it.
JACK LANDY: Yeah. So, a lot of things are being considered along those lines. And even though the federal and federal funding picture is not that great right now.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Which is surprising cause Trump, he seems like such a strong environmentalist. I think maybe if he put money only in Lake Tahoe, people would be suspicious about, maybe it was a payoff. We're going to go and get a beer where, where are we going to go?
JACK LANDY: Oh, right across the street, Lakeside.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Perfect. Next, I meet up with Darcie Goodman Collins, who runs keep Tahoeblue.org. Darcie serves as an ambassador and advocate for the lake. Darcie earned her doctorate at the University of California Santa Barbara on how Environmental Science can integrate with community engagement to inform public policy. Darcie was born and raised in South Lake Tahoe. I started by asking Darcie what is like to be a kid growing up in Lake Tahoe.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: It was such a fantastic place to grow up and our activities were outdoors, always outdoors, no matter what it was. Something active, something at the lake in the winter, go skiing. It just really made you appreciate nature and growing up outside.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And I kind of felt great that I bicycled around the lake and then I came in this morning and Darcie’s like, oh yeah, I ran around the lake.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: There are so many trails, bike trails, running trails, hiking trails. You just walk outside of your house and go on a 10-mile run.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us why it's special to you.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Yeah, Lake Tahoe is such a unique place because it's so accessible. So, you've got this beautiful landscape, this beautiful lake that's so crystal clear. It's large. It's surrounded by mountains. Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States. Crater Lake in Oregon is deeper, and it's just about 1,650 feet deep at its deepest. So, it's extremely deep. It's very clear. And there's a couple of reasons why it's so clear. One of them is because the watershed or the area that drains into the lake is fairly small compared to the size of the lake. So, the majority of the precipitation actually falls directly on the surface of the lake. The geology and the mixing patterns of the lake keep it so clear. On average, the lake mixes in its entirety every four years. So that means anything that's settling on the surface has an opportunity to mix to the bottom. So, you have a very clear lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Kind of a cool method by which you determine the clarity of the lake.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: So, Tahoe has been studied for years. It's such a special place. In the 1950s, Dr. Charles Goldman, a famous limnologist, which is a scientist that studies lakes, noticed how remarkable Lake Tahoe was, and he wanted to look at the clarity and see if it was losing clarity and compare it to clarity numbers from the earlier part of the century. So, he started collecting information on how deep you could see in the lake using a white disc. It's like a plate-sized disc and it's called a Secchi disk. And you just drop that in the water until you no longer can see it with the naked eye and the depth at which it disappears, that's the clarity levels. So, there's been continuous measurements since the 1950’s of the lake clarity level.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what's happening to the clarity, Darcie?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Unfortunately, the clarity is going down. Although, we have been able to arrest the decline in the clarity loss. In the 1950’s, the sewage in Lake Tahoe was being directly dumped into the lake. So, we were able to pass legislation that prevented any sewage from going to the lake. So, all of our sewage gets pumped out of the basin. And recently, the biggest impact overall is climate change. So warming temperatures and everything that's associated with climate changes.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Wow. It’s a very, very deep lake. So, you wouldn't think that it was warming very much.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: There's noticeable warming. The water isn't getting as cold on the surface during the winter and spring and what normally happens is it gets cold enough to mix. So, every handful of years, the surface water gets cold, cold waters get denser. So that helps with the mixing and because the past handful of years, the water, the temperatures have been so warm, the surface levels haven't cooled down. So that's preventing the mixing. That really helps cycle through the nutrients and gives us our beautiful clear water.
JARED BLUMENFELD: The clarity and the blueness of the lake has played a large role in kind of helping people understand these environmental issues.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Yeah. What Tahoe is known for is its clarity and its cobalt blue water. And so, it's, it's a real easy thing to understand the necessity to protect Tahoe to keep that beauty. So, we are lucky enough to have the iconic slogan “keep Tahoe blue.” Simple is what everyone wants and what everyone comes here for. But there's a lot associated with that. We see huge impact from people visiting our beaches. After big weekends or big holidays, there'll be tons of trash left on the beaches, and that trash can make its way into the lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I love citizen science and you have to really cool citizen science projects.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Well, the best way to make sure you protect the natural resources is to get the community onboard. Citizen science is always a great way to get people excited about protecting the environment. And it's also could be very useful because collecting data and information about our natural resources is expensive and time consuming. So, we created citizen science programs to help focus on the biggest threats facing the lake’s aquatic invasive species, and then pollution or sediments that drain into the lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What are invasive species and why is Tahoe particularly vulnerable?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Invasive species are species that are not native to the environment, but they're invasive because they also cause negative impacts as they establish. So, we have a handful invasive species, and two of the biggest problematic species are aquatic weeds. There's a Eurasian milfoil and then there is a curly leaf pond weed, and they're basically aquarium weeds. And both of them probably either came here by boats coming from other areas or possibly aquariums being dumped into the Tahoe keys, which is one of our biggest marinas in the lake. And they have established throughout the shallower waters, they establish in warm waters. They establish where there's a lot of nutrients and then they completely change the environment. So, they make it easier for other invasive species to establish. They change the nutrient regimes, they're contributing to clarity loss. They make it easier, for example, we have Asian clams that are not native. So those also can establish easier when there's more invasive species. So, trying to control those once they get into the lake is a lot of work because they spread, and you don't always know where they're spreading.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you give a class on what these weeds look like, what Asian clams look like, and then you send out your army of citizen scientists.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Exactly. And then while they're paddle-boarding or swimming or kayaking, they use an APP. We partnered with UC Davis to create an APP that you can easily download onto your phone. So, for the Eyes on the Lake, they identify where the species are. And even if there's none present, that's just as important to know if there's some present. So, for example, over the last year, we've identified two new populations. We were able to get volunteers to go out and help us pull those weeds and it was cheap, effective, and it prevented a huge population from sprouting up.
JARED BLUMENFELD: That's awesome. Thanks to all those volunteers. That's really cool.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: It gives people who want to do something to protect the lake, something they could feel they're doing hands on. They can do it any time. They go through a quick training and then anytime that you're on the lake, no matter what time of year, you could help us identify new populations.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How many people live in Lake Tahoe year-round?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: There's about 60,000 full time residents throughout the entire lake.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And I heard that there was new data from cell phones about how many people come here during the year. Maybe tell us a little bit about that.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Yeah, we've learned that there's over 20 million visitors to Tahoe each year, which is more than the top three national parks combined. So, there's a lot of impact on the lake. Some of those are day users, some of them are here on vacation for longer periods of time, but it's just a ton of impact and a lot of usership on our resources.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What would you want those 20 million plus visitors to think about when they come to Lake Tahoe to, to help lessen the impact on the lake and the surrounding environment.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: So, leaving no trace when they go to our beaches, to pick up after themselves, being mindful of how they're impacting Tahoe and also figuring out how they can get out of their own private cars. Because at this point, there's 11 million cars that are coming into Tahoe and that impact is extraordinary. So even if we maintain the same amount of visitors or even increase of visitors, which is going to happen with the pressures and the population growth in our surrounding areas, if we can get people to Tahoe in something besides their own automobile, and then give them an opportunity to get around with other means of transportation, that'll help a lot.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Did you get any money from Chevy Tahoes?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: We don't, but we should partner with them.
JARED BLUMENFELD: When I was biking around the lake, I saw all these Chevy Tahoes with a little “keep Tahoe blue” and I was like, they should at least be giving you some money. So, anything we can do to help you get money from Chevy Tahoe, let us know.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: It is a bit ironic to see that. The majority of our sediment going into the lake, and sediment is the number one cause of clarity loss, is from the roads and the cars driving over the sand that is put on the roads. So, in the winter we put a lot of traction to help with the slippery and icy road conditions. The more cars that drive on our roads, the more that sediment is ground up into fine particles. Those particles make their way to the lake, and the finer they are, the less capable they are of settling to the bottom, so they stay suspended in the water column. So, the more road usage we have, and the more roads break down, the more sediment that gets washed into the lake. So, getting people out of their cars and less cars on the road, other means of transportation, will help decrease the amount of sediment that's going into the lake. No one wants to come to Tahoe and sit in traffic. They're coming up here to get away from their urbanized normal life and have a peaceful vacation. So, having a nice experience where you're not spending half your time in the car would help just everyone enjoy Tahoe more.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Even if this was a national park like Yosemite, the number one issue is traffic and pollution from traffic. And I guess what they're doings is having park and ride.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: So last year we launched a bike share program. We partnered with the company Line Bike and they brought over 200, I think by the end, about 500 bikes up to the south side of the lake. And they were used extensively. We figured that about 8,000 vehicle miles were removed from the road that during that period, and they came back again this summer. They brought electric scooters, which have their own controversies associated with them. But for the pilot project here in Tahoe, we've had over a hundred thousand miles written between the bikes and the scooters. So, we've definitely getting people out of their cars and people are loving it.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you're a pretty visible member of the community. You live here, you work here. What do people come up to you in the grocery store and say?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: People get frustrated the most with things that they aren't allowed to do with their own properties. So why I have to put in best management practices, which are practices that help with erosion and other things that contribute to lake quality decline. That's pretty rare these days because people understand that the lake is what they're here for and they want to help be a part of the solution.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How is it living in a community with so many second homes?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: My parents still live in the same house where I was born, and our neighbors used to all be hundred percent full time, and now, I would say 80% of them are vacation rentals, which is sad because there's just not that much care. You're not looking out for your neighbor and the lawns are all dying. So that is one consequence of having that type of industry.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us about when you ran around the lake.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Well, I am an avid runner. I love running. And so, I have been able to do a couple of relays around the lake and they are a ton of fun. You get to see the area and experience it differently. And when you're driving, you don't get to see the same things that you do when you're huffing and puffing going up a hill and enjoying it at a much slower pace.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I just can't believe that anyone could even think about running around the lake. When did you do it?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: I think three years ago.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Doesn't it just feel daunting when you think about it?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Running is addictive. So, once you start, you just kind of get used to it and you have your crew with you, and they motivate you and you're doing it with other people so you're not doing it by yourself.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What's your vision 10 years from now? What do you think Tahoe will be like?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: One of the biggest impacts to Tahoe is our ailing infrastructure. We were built out in the 1960’s. Nineteen fifties and sixties to accommodate the gaming industry and the 1960’s Olympics.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Here's a quick clip from the 1960 Olympics.
1960’s Olympics Clip: Hello everybody. This is Lowell Thomas greeting you from Squaw Valley, the Tahoe National Forest, where the eighth winter Olympic Games are in progress. This, as you know, is the greatest spectacle in all winter sports.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: And there was no thought really put into the buildings that were put up and we still have a lot of those old buildings. So, we're trying to work on removing the buildings that are on sensitive land and put them in town centers and have more urbanized areas that are economically successful, that are more modernized and that are better for the environment.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us a little bit about the relationship between Lake Tahoe and Lake Baikal.
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: Lake Baikal is officially our sister lake and Lake Baikal is in Siberia in Russia. It dwarfs Tahoe. The lake is huge, and it’s got this small little bay on the bottom and Tahoe is the size of that bay. And there's also been a huge exchange in information between the two lakes. And that started through the Tahoe-Baikal Institute in the 1990’s, where we had an exchange program where we brought scientists and policy makers from the US to Russia and vice versa. And it was a great opportunity just to learn about the different systems and about the best ways to protect in the different areas.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Have you been out there Darcie?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: I have. I had the opportunity in the early 2000’s.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And it was cool?
DARCIE GOODMAN COLLINS: It was amazing. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
JARED BLUMENFELD: One of my buddies from Russia, George Gogolev, spends a lot of time in Lake Baikal, with his mother Masha Vorontsova, who's one of the leading Russian fresh water zoologists. Lake Baikal contains 20% of the Earth’s fresh surface water, equivalent to all five of America's Great Lakes combined. I asked George, what is like to spend time on Lake Baikal?
GEORGE GOGOLEV: It's almost a mile deep, pretty deep, the deepest lake in the world. So, you’ve got fresh water seals there, and great fish, fresh water herring. It’s a half hour flight from Moscow and a two-hour drive to the closest area. If you wanted to go to some remote areas, you better take like a small plane or a chopper or a boat to get out there. The tourism industry is a little underdeveloped and under regulated. And there's a lot of small hotels. They have a lot of sewage issues and they're not allowed to discharge water into Lake Baikal, and they're not allowed to do local sewage treatment. So, a lot of hotels, for example, would not have showers.
JARED BLUMENFELD: But you could go swimming in the lake.
GEORGE GOGOLEV: Yes. You could. Yeah. And we went, even during the winter we went swimming. Lately there has been a major problem with the Chinese tourists, because somehow Baikal got on the list of some Chinese government program, which was originally made to show cities to rural populations. So, like, you know, free trips to the cities. And they just started adding some cities abroad. So, they add up your quotes, and Lake Baikal is one of those, you know, free destinations for Chinese rural workers. So, they fly them in huge airplanes, and they almost leave no capitol there cause it's all run by one company which is owned by one guy there, an ex-politician. And they don't buy souvenirs. You know, they don't pay any extra for restrooms. You know, everything is like super cheap, and then they come in hordes, and they stay the main tourist areas, you know, and they don’t follow the paths. They cause a lot of damage to the local ecosystems.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Interesting. I've never heard of Chinese rural tourism in Russia.
GEORGE GOGOLEV: Yeah, me neither. But they say that during the summer, it's almost impossible to get into local museums cause they're all over booked with these groups. It's amazing. It's a very, very high-volume tourist and which is very poorly regulated.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Thanks to Jack Landy, Darcie Goodman Collins, and George Gogolev for sharing their stories about Lake Tahoe and her sister Lake Baikal. I had no idea going into this episode that the commonality between these two Alpine lakes would be the impact of uncontrolled tourism. In Lake Tahoe, the influx of almost 20 million tourists driving 11 million cars has to be addressed if the clarity is to be restored to its former glory. In the poem by Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, he writes, “each man kills the thing he loves. By each, let this be heard.” In Lake Tahoe, and around the world, tourism is overwhelming nature and local communities’ ability to cope. I spend every episode of Podship Earth extolling the benefits of getting into the great outdoors, and yet this week I fell victim to biking amongst traffic jams of people trying to get outdoors in Lake Tahoe. I think the answer is that we don't all need to go to the same places. There's so much magic, only a few miles from Lake Tahoe, at Castle Peak. When I hiked there on the PCT, I was the only person for miles. If we're all going to go to the same place, we need to leave our cars behind and also leave no trace. Next week, I get fully immersed in the Global Climate Summit that's bringing delegates from around the world to San Francisco. Rather than go to the official events, I'm going to visit the fringe. Please like our show and the Apple Podship Earth page. It only takes a few seconds, and it really helps the show attract a broad set of listeners. Thanks so much for being part of the Podship Earth journey. From the entire Podship Earth crew, sound engineer Rob Speight, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer David Kahn, and me, Jared Blumenfeld, have a crystal-clear week.