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Land Use

Basin Topics > Land Use

[Photo]: Construction site showing use of BMP   Copyright: Larry ProsserThe popularity of the Lake Tahoe Basin has created an altered watershed.  The positive economic effects of popularity are shadowed by conditions that stress Lake Tahoe water resources.  Planning land use to accommodate economic growth and vitality ensures that protective measures are taken to maintain a healthy watershed. Everything we do to the land in the Lake Tahoe Basin can positively or adversely affect lake water clarity. This means that activities occurring on the land, such as applying fertilizers and pesticides, have a high potential to affect the Lake’s water quality.  Sixty-three streams flow into Lake Tahoe and are the invisible threads that connect the Lake to us and our homes.  Everything we use or produce in the watershed -- sewage, fertilizers, pesticides, motor oil, and animal wastes -- can be carried into Lake Tahoe.

Land use corresponds to the socio-economic description of areas used for residential, industrial or commercial, farming or forestry, and recreational or conservation purposes. In order to better understand concepts of land use and land cover, and how they relate to the Lake Tahoe Basin, there are three important terms to know:

  • Land cover addresses the physical characteristics or make up of the earth’s surface and describes whether land is comprised of vegetation, water, desert, ice, or human activities such as buildings, mines, and roads.
  • Land use addresses the main activity occurring on the covered land. It is often an activity dictated by humans.  For example, a forest might be used for logging or recreation and tourism.  In this example, the land uses are logging and recreation and tourism.  The land cover is forest.
Land capability is also referred to as land suitability and addresses the type and extent of land development, if any, appropriate for a particular land area.  Land capability analysis identifies soil type and slope of the land to determine the extent of land use.  Land capability is an important topic in the Lake Tahoe Basin as it determines where new development can occur and to what extent.  Since the late 1970's, regulatory agencies in the Tahoe Region have used the land capability classification system known as the to determine whether owners of vacant parcels may obtain building permits for new residences or businesses. The Bailey system was replaced in vacant residential parcels with an alternate concept known as the Individual Parcel Evaluation System;

 
[Photo]: Aerial view of roads, trees, and facilities.   Copyright: Larry ProsserSituations complicate the link between land use and land cover. Contrary to land cover, land use is difficult to observe. For example, it is often difficult to decide if grasslands are used or not for agricultural purposes. Distinctions between land use and land cover and their definition have impacts on the development of classification systems, data collection and information systems in general. Interests in land use and land cover result from their direct relationship to productivity of the land, diversity of plant and animal species, and biochemical and hydrological cycles. Land cover is continually molded and transformed by land use due to human cultural, social, and economic activities.
 
Human impacts, such as run-off from buildings and roads and erosion from recreation trails and ski resorts, can seriously harm Lake Tahoe’s legendary cobalt-blue water clarity and cause water quality deterioration.