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Lake Tahoe is famous for its pristine blue water, world-class skiing and breathtaking views.
But as the world undergoes dramatic shifts in temperature and weather patterns, what will happen to the things that define Tahoe?
TahoeLand is a new podcast from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento seeking to answer that question.
Environment Reporter Ezra David Romero, Podcast Producer Sally Schilling and Data Reporter Emily Zentner interviewed Tahoe residents, winter sports athletes and NASA climatologists to learn how the lake is being affected and what it can tell us about the world that’s coming.
“The effects of climate change were impacting that region strongly,” Romero told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Romero explained that climate change is impacting everything from wildfires to lake clarity to the snowpack. He said the region has always been known for variability in weather patterns but now that variability is getting more extreme.
“It could be these huge snow years or extreme drought years, so they’re already seeing some of these effects, even on businesses,” he said.
One of the most dramatic parts of the first podcast is a fictional account of driving to Lake Tahoe in 2099. Romero describes driving through the mountains to the lake and finding no snow - and realizing he hasn't seen snow there in 10 years.
The producers of the show based that part of the podcast on the worst-case scenario outlined in a Vulnerability Climate Assessment created by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the Tahoe Conservancy.
“Maybe Tahoe won’t be this ski place that everyone knows it as," Romero said, "It might transition into a longer summer and fall."
While some people are trying to capitalize on that, others are struggling with changing snow patterns, like the man who runs a sleigh ride business who has to find a new way to make a living when there isn't enough snow.
Sally Schilling is a podcast producer for Capital Public Radio. She said the snowpack problem in Tahoe is similar to snowpack problems in other places.
“We’re seeing some really big snow years like this year in Tahoe was one of the biggest snow years on record but the overall trend in snowpack in Tahoe is a downward trend,” she said, "That’s something that we’re seeing in Tahoe having a huge impact on the people on the ground there and that’s something you see all over the United States.”
Perhaps one of the most visible impacts of climate change on the iconic lake is a change in clarity. Lake Tahoe is known for its stunning clarity. In 1968, the first time it was measured, clarity was at 102.4 feet. This year, it was at 70.9, which is a dramatic improvement from 60.4 feet the year before.
Romero explained that the snowpack feeds the lake but if there is less snow more nutrients will fill the lake.
“When that comes to climate change, the threats are that more and more sediment, pieces, fine particles from the roads, all the tourist that come into the place, will fill the lake up and will make it murkier and cloudier,” he said.
Another problem impacting the clarity of the lake is invasive species, like the Mysis shrimp. According to Capital Public Radio Data Reporter Emily Zentner, the shrimp were introduced to the lake in the 60s as fish food.
But instead of feeding the fish, they eat the zooplankton.
“These microorganisms that the shrimp eat are actually generally eating the dirt and the fine particles and the algae that make the water murkier,” she said.
By removing the shrimp, researchers hope to offset some of the other impacts climate change is having on the lake.
The podcast team has been working on this project for the past 10 months. They've talked to dozens of people from researchers to business owners.
“Everyone I talked to said, 'we get this is happening. It’s real here. The effect of wildfires is happening. The effect on the lake is happening. The snow is happening. Our economy is happening.' For them, it’s real. It’s real life.,” Romero said.
There may be debate among people living in the area about what is causing climate change, he said, but everyone understands it is happening.
“I just hope they understand that this place called Lake Tahoe that we all love and play at and hold in our hearts really is at risk in many ways and that these scientists are spending their due time doing all this research… and these are probabilities that could happen and there are lessons in Lake Tahoe, in the Lake Tahoe Basin, that the rest of the world can learn from,” Romero said.
Ezra David Romero, Environment Reporter, Capital Public Radio; Sally Schilling, Podcast Producer, Capital Public Radio; Emily Zentner, Data Reporter
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