Lake Tahoe took center stage under a cloudless summer day Tuesday as federal, state and local officials gathered on its shores to hail environmental accomplishments, outline its continued challenges and tout its role as an economic jewel.
"We all know that while Lake Tahoe is a very special place, it is not immune to what's happening around the rest of the country," said U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who hosted this year's event held at Sand Harbor State Park's Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater.
Protecting Lake Tahoe, he said, is the right thing to do "environmentally and economically."
Reid and others spoke of expanding Tahoe's lure beyond a seasonal recreational playground to a year-round destination.
Reid said the lake that straddles the Nevada-California line in the high Sierra should be a catalyst to kickstart an economy that has suffered in the recession.
Tuesday's forum was the 14th since President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore attended the inaugural event in 1997 that led to passage of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2000, legislation that committed $424 million to environmental projects designed to protect the lake's famed clarity and its surrounding forests from catastrophic wildfire.
An eight-year extension of the act, which would authorize another $415 million, is pending in Congress.
The federal money, much of which came from the sale of federal lands in southern Nevada, was used to generate a total $1.5 billion from state, local and private sources.
Ensign, R-Nev., who sported a bandage on his right arm -- the evidence of a tumble off a mountain bike along a Tahoe trail -- said land sales in southern Nevada have slowed during the recession, and so, too, have funds available for Tahoe.
But he said the commitment remains, and he particularly stressed the importance of fuel reduction projects to protect the Tahoe basin from catastrophic wildfires and becoming a "moonscape."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., congratulated fire officials, environmentalists, state and local governments and private efforts for their work over the past decade.
"You really got your act together and I am so proud of you," she said.
She noted a report released Monday that while Tahoe's waters may be murkier than in previous decades, they haven't worsened over the past 10 years.
The report from University of California, Davis researchers said the lake's waters were clear to an average depth of 68.1 feet in 2009, down from 102.4 feet in 1968, when the school began measurements.
She said a goal is to restore Tahoe's clarity to 78 feet over the next 15 years.
Feinstein also praised efforts to control invasive species, such as Asian clams, quagga mussels and nonnative weeds.
Scientists have found they can eradicate the clams by covering them with an underwater sheeting that deprives them of oxygen.
Tahoe regulators also have implemented an aggressive boat inspection program designed to keep mussels out of Tahoe's waters.
"One quagga mussel produces 1 million babies over a year," she said. "It has effectively killed Lake Mead and we must keep it out of this lake," she said.