CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who orchestrated the first presidential summit focused on Lake Tahoe's environmental challenges, on Monday announced that former Vice President Al Gore will return to Tahoe's shores for the 17th annual forum highlighting the Sierra's crown jewel.
"The thing that I thought would be a photo-op ... turned out to be a two-day story around the world," Reid, reflecting on the first presidential forum, said in a conference call with reporters.
Gore and President Bill Clinton came to the alpine lake 1997 to host the forum focusing on the environmental challenges within the Tahoe Basin. It capped weeks of visits by cabinet members, town hall meetings and gatherings of scientific researchers, academics, transportation officials and businesses leaders who brainstormed on the importance of Lake Tahoe and how its survival was tied to myriad factors — from development and snow runoff to forest health and air pollution.
Since then, more than $1.55 billion in combined funding from private, federal, state and local government sources have financed long-rage environmental improvement programs within the Tahoe Basin.
Much of the federal money has come from land sales in southern Nevada, as authorized under the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Under that law, $300 million has been funneled specifically to the Tahoe Basin for environmental projects.
But federal funds dried up in recent years as Nevada's economy tanked and the housing market imploded under the weight of the Great Recession.
Reid said he hopes the auction last week of Bureau of Land Management property that netted $21.4 million is an indication that the southern Nevada economy and an interest by homebuilders is starting to turn around.
He cautioned future land sales won't bring "huge amounts of money" for a long time — not like the boom years in the Las Vegas Valley when such sales fetched prices of more than $600,000 per acre.
"But there is some money coming in and we'll try to get as much money for the lake as we can," Reid said.
The theme of this year's summit is "A Clean Lake Legacy: Preserving Tahoe and the Environment for Future Generations." It will be held Aug. 19 at Sand Harbor State Park on the east shore of Tahoe.
California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to attend. Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has been invited, the senator said.
Tensions between the two states have eased with the passage by the 2013 Nevada Legislature of a bill repealing Nevada's threat to leave the decades-old Tahoe Compact, which was enacted by Congress in 1969 to protect the lake's fragile ecology and famously clear waters. Companion legislation is pending in the California Legislature.
Nevada blamed California for favoring strict environmental controls that critics said were used to block development and cripple the economy of a state and region hard hit by the recession.
Both states have since repledged to work together and acknowledge that economic factors are to be considered when land use decisions are made. The agreement also gives local government agencies more oversight to approve smaller projects within their boundaries.