INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (AP) – Former Vice President Al Gore brought his warnings of global warming to the shores of Lake Tahoe on Monday, saying the cooperation that is helping to protect the alpine lake’s famed clear waters is a model for what can be accomplished in battling climate change.
Gore returned to Lake Tahoe 16 years after he and former President Bill Clinton ushered in a new awareness on the need to protect the alpine lake’s delicate ecosystem from the myriad environmental threats to its famous clarity.
Scientists in the mid-1990s warned that unless dramatic steps were taken to curb runoff, tackle air pollution and thin forests in the scenic basin straddling the Nevada-California line, Tahoe’s waters would turn an irreversible, murky green within a few decades, taking with it a $5 billion tourism economy.
That 1997 presidential summit, orchestrated by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was the impetus leading to public-private cooperation that to date has invested $1.7 billion in environmental improvement projects within the Tahoe Basin.
“We have to acknowledge that now is the time to renew our commitment … to go the rest of the way,” Gore told about 700 people attending the summit at Sand Harbor State Park.
Scientists say there is evidence Tahoe’s cold waters are getting warmer, snow is melting faster and more precipitation is falling as rain.
A single degree in temperature, he said, “is the difference between rain and snow.”
“That is a threshold event,” Gore said. “There are honest to goodness real tipping points out there.”
He said the momentum to protect the lake from invasive species, wildfires and warm-water algae growth needs to continue or gains made over the past 17 years could be for naught.
In the late 1960s, a white disk the size of a dinner plate could be seen to a depth of 102 feet. Thirty years later, clarity had declined to around 64 feet. Last year, it was measured at 75.3 feet – a 6.4-foot improvement from a year earlier and 3-feet shy of a short-term, 78-foot clarity goal.
Gore was joined by Reid, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., as well as other state and local dignitaries.
Reid, Feinstein and Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., earlier this month introduced a bill reauthorizing $415 million for environmental projects in the Tahoe Basin.
Before Monday’s event, Sandoval and Brown signed a proclamation pledging continued cooperation between the two states on wildfire preparedness.
Fire in the Tahoe Basin is an ever-present threat, evidenced Monday by a smoky haze over the basin from a 13,000-acre fire burning about 30 miles north of Tahoe. Scientists fear a catastrophic fire in the basin would send tons of nitrogen-laced runoff into the lake, spurring the growth of algae that dulls its clarity.
Gore’s 2006 documentary on climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won two Academy awards.
Gore said efforts to protect Tahoe transcend political lines and can help forge a direction about climate change on a global scale.
“This started without partisanship. It started without ideology. It continues without regard to politics or ideology,” he said. “Because of that, I think you can help us find a way to win the conversation on global warming.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.