Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin

As lead consultant, Catalyst supported California Tahoe Conservancy in the development of the Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan (CAAP) for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Climate change poses a significant threat to the Lake Tahoe Basin (Basin). The Basin is unique with world-class natural features and number of annual visitors equals that of a national park, yet only 65,000+ year-round residents live within its borders. This combination makes the Basin an intense testing ground for California to adapt to climate change, as small communities and road networks have intimately woven themselves throughout spectacular waters, mountains, and forests.

The Basin spans five counties and 20 municipalities, including the incorporated City of South Lake Tahoe. Additionally, a wide range of federal, state, regional, and local agencies/authorities, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are actively managing the Basin’s natural resources and built assets/infrastructure.

To capture the multi-jurisdictional and uniqueness of the Basin’s environment, Catalyst Environmental Solutions worked with California Tahoe Conservancy (Conservancy) to develop a Basin-specific CAAP in cooperation with a wide-range of public, private, NGOs, and business partners This approach would yield a comprehensive action-oriented plan that provides the Basin immediate and long-term resilience to the effects of climate change.

Objectives of the CAAP

Enhance the Basin’s resilience to climate change – the ability of its communities, resources, assets, and landscape to withstand and adapt climate-amplified disturbances and extreme events.

Align public and private efforts to take climate change into account in planning and investment decisions.

Inform and increase the awareness of public agencies, stakeholders, and local communities on the anticipated impacts of climate change, and of the public and private actions that will build resilience to future climate impacts.

Process Overview & Key Documents

There were five key documents in the CAAP development process:

Downscaled Basin-Specific Climate Change Projections – The UC-Davis climate laboratory modeled the future conditions of key climate drivers in the Basin. These forecasts provide all stakeholders in the Basin with a common understanding of how the Basin will change in the future.

Vulnerability Assessment (VA) – A team of expert scientists, engineers, professors, and consultants was convened to assess how changing climate conditions will impact the Basin’s natural resources and built environment/communities. The VA identifies and discusses the vulnerabilities, threats, and implications from climate change on the Basin’s natural, public, and social resources.

Gaps Analysis of Current Plans/Programs/Projects – A wide range of government agencies/departments, NGOs, businesses, and academics were involved in identifying the plans, projects, and programs occurring in the Basin that may already be managing vulnerable resources/assets. The Gaps Analysis provides a snapshot of those ongoing efforts in order to inform the development of adaptation actions.

Climate Adaptation Action Plan – This document intends to serve as a collaborative road map for integrating climate adaptation actions into the Basin’s planning and investment decision-making process(es). The actions provided in this CAAP were developed for near-term (next few years) implementation to bolster the Basin’s long-term resilience to the effects of climate change.

Performance Metrics – The CAAP is intended to be a living document, a starting point for the collaborative management of climate change. To monitor the need for additional/modified actions, Performance Metrics are being developed to provide a structured approach to measuring the success of adaptation measures.

Focusing on Connections and Linkages Across the Basin’s Three Key Environments - Lake Tahoe, the Upland Environment, and the Built Environment and Communities

By focusing on the connections and linkages between the key resources in the Tahoe Basin, the CAAP takes a “systems” approach in assessing the Basin’s collective vulnerability and those actions which can provide multiple benefits. A systems approach also encourages effective adaptation management through multi-jurisdictional cooperation to build resilient systems rather than focus on the protection of individual resources.

The CAAP frames the Basin’s resources into three systems: 1) the Lake Tahoe System - the greater Lake Tahoe ecosystem; 2) the Upland Environment – the Basin’s upland system consisting of forested lands, riparian and meadow features; and 3) the Basin’s Built Environment and Communities – people, social resources, buildings, and infrastructure/services. These three key systems capture all critical resources in the Basin and allow for a comprehensive assessment of the Basin’s vulnerability to climate change. The figure below provides a diagram of the conceptual framework of the systems approach and demonstrates both the connectivity between resources and the interdependent relationship between the three key systems.

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