With Jesse Patterson, Chief Strategy Officer, the League to Save Lake Tahoe
Jump on any major highway in the United States and you’ll come across a dark blue bumper sticker with the words “Keep Tahoe Blue” adorning many vehicles.
The organization behind the slogan is the League to Save Lake Tahoe, which just as its name implies, has been using advocacy, education, and boots on the ground for sixty-plus years to preserve Lake Tahoe’s unique majesty.
Jesse talked us through the importance of Lake Tahoe and how the organization has made a tangible impact to protect the inherent value of this natural wonder. In this post, we’ll explore exactly how the organization is enacting environmental protection practices that ensure the destination’s longevity far into the future.
The Lowdown on Lake Tahoe
Perched between California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevada mountains lies the pristine, otherworldly Lake Tahoe. Its crystal clear waters and unique geography draw visitors near and far.
Why Is Lake Tahoe So Blue?
Lake Tahoe’s intense blueness actually comes from its clarity. Because the water is so pure and the lake is so clear, the sunlight hitting it actually gets absorbed and reflected out as even bluer!
Jesse explained a bit more in the episode:
“It’s just literally how light refracts through the water column. And it’s so clear…the light spectrum is absorbed as it flows through the lake and all that’s left is a deep rich blue, almost violet color and it really is like a blue you’ve never seen.”
What Environmental Challenges Is Lake Tahoe Facing?
As Jesse describes in the episode, there are three distinct ways in which Lake Tahoe is being threatened. Through an integrated, holistic approach, the local community and the League to Save Lake Tahoe are addressing each while considering sustainable economic development and environmental health.
#1 — Human Impact
Each year, 20 million people visit Lake Tahoe and there are 50,000 year round residents. For reference, another Nevadan wonder, the Grand Canyon, welcomes 5.9 million visitors per year. Because Lake Tahoe isn’t a protected National Park, people can live on the lake, hike, bike, walk, boat, fish, and do just about anything.
To accommodate 20 million annual visitors, development has been booming since 1950 in the regional area. The construction of homes, hotels, casinos, and urban necessities have increased the levels of sediment in the lake, which cause algae to grow and alter the chemistry of the lake.
When rain falls, it filters through the surrounding marshland. But if that marshland is harboring pollution from nearby development sites, those same pollutants move into the lake and impact the clarity. Similarly, any rainfall that runs across pavement draws particulate material and road oil directly into the lake. This urban stormwater is a primary threat to the lake.
#2 — Ecological Impact
Aquatic invasive species have altered the fabric of the ecosystem at Lake Tahoe. Invasive species can hitch a ride from boats originating in other locations, or they can be introduced through humans. Curly leaf pondweed and Asian clams, for example, are some invasive species that are impacting Lake Tahoe.
Any boat on Lake Tahoe is subject to boarding and inspection to prevent the spread of invasive species. Zebra mussels are an impending concern for Lake Tahoe, as they reproduce quickly and alter the food webs of other species. Invasive species aren’t just a bother, they concentrate certain nutrients that can cause algae blooms, which prevent Tahoe from staying blue.
#3 — Climate Change
As with most natural wonders, Lake Tahoe is threatened by the impact of climate change. Warmer temperatures are leading to droughts and more rainfall than snowfall, both of which alter the conditions at Lake Tahoe. The lake’s temperature is rising due to climate change, which alters the species living there.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe: Keeping Tahoe Blue
The mission of this organization founded in 1957 is pure and simple: to protect Lake Tahoe for many generations to come and to keep Tahoe blue. Through a holistic approach balanced with science, data, and advocacy, they’re solving the regional environmental challenges faced by the lake and fighting for water quality.
Three campaigns are driving the organization’s current work: combating pollution, advancing restoration, and tackling invasive species.
To tackle the impact of pollution and to protect Lake Tahoe from climate-related threats, the League is facilitating ecosystem restoration projects. Another effort is the League’s citizen science program, which is educating and empowering volunteers to recognize and remove invasive species. Through each of these data and community-driven efforts, the League is ensuring the survival of this incredible national treasure for many years to come.
Jesse Patterson, Chief Strategy Officer at The League to Save Lake Tahoe
Since 2012, Jesse has been advancing the mission of The League to Save Lake Tahoe by designing and managing campaigns that enhance education and action around keeping Tahoe blue.
From the University of California Santa Barbara, Jesse received both his Master of Environmental Science and Management from the Donald Bren School and a Bachelor of Science in aquatic biology.
“No politician is going to solve this, no individual is going to solve this on their own…It’s this collective ideology that you can make change together.”
Closing: The Future of Lake Tahoe
One of the best things we can do to connect to the planet we’re trying to save is to immerse ourselves in its natural beauty.
In short, visit Lake Tahoe!
While you’re there, become a “voluntourist” as Jesse says, and treat the lake with the utmost respect.
If you aren’t able to see it in person, take similar considerations next time you visit a waterway in your community. Maybe you can pick up litter during your hike, or support efforts to protect public access to environmental spaces. Together, we can ensure that future generations and every community in the Lake Tahoe basin can enjoy its splendor.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- League to Save Lake Tahoe on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
- Quiet by Susan Cain
- PM Press
- Keep Tahoe Blue Sticker
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.