Where people live and work, how and where they recreate, the kinds of jobs they
have and how they flow into and out of the Basin all have
a direct impact on the environmental health of Lake Tahoe.
Because decisions about restoration and planning initiatives
affect human interests and activities, demography and economy
data are collected and studied as part of the planning and
restoration decision-making process.
Demography describe various population characteristics
of the Basin´´s people. Primarily collected by local, state,
and/or federal agencies such as the Census Bureau and local
public health departments, demographic information covers
a range of topics including population size, sex, age composition,
ethnic backgrounds, household characteristics, geographic
distribution, part-time versus full-time residents and other
vital statistics. Demography and economy data are frequently
displayed in graphs and charts for ease of interpretation.
Figure 1. shows that in 2000, 18% of the population in the
Lake Tahoe Basin resided in Placer County.
Economy includes economic conditions and employment
and describes the Basin´s economic history, current economic
well-being, and often its potential for future economic
development. This information takes into account such factors
as employment levels, types of jobs, per capita income,
poverty and unemployment rates, the range of incomes in
the community, and trends in employment opportunities (e.g.,
family-owned businesses versus national chain businesses). Because tourism and recreation are an integral part of the
economy of the Lake Tahoe Basin, these statistics are especially
important to collect and understand.
Why are Demographic and Economic
Restoration and planning initiatives must take into account
impacts these initiatives might have on housing, jobs, and
local commerce. The quality of the Lake Tahoe environment
and the viability of a sustainable recreation economy in
the Basin are interrelated. The center of the Lake Tahoe
economy is tourism. Tourists are attracted to Lake Tahoe
because of its environmental beauty as well as the recreation
offered by the environment. Because of the inter-relationship
between the environment and the economy, it is important
to track population trends, visitor movement, and other
demographic and economic information to ensure the presence
and transportation of people will not adversely affect Lake
Tahoe Basin environmental quality. Likewise, it is also
important to ensure the means for protecting environmental
quality do not place an undue burden on people living and
working in the Basin. Demographic and economic information
help provide vital statistics relevant for decision-making
to ensure this delicate balance is maintained.
Demographic and economic information are used in other
ways and provide important information about the community.
Some of the information provided includes:
- Background data on the diversity of residents who make
up the community´s population;
- The structure of family units;
- Education level of residents;
- Descriptions of subgroups within the population; and
- Different values present within the community.
This information can be used to effectively design public
participation, outreach and education strategies for community
environmental goal setting and planning that reflect the
different age, educational and economic backgrounds present
in the community.
Demographic information also describes characteristics
of the existing population as well as the ways in which
the community´s demographics are expected to change in the
future (e.g., population growth or decline, ethnic or age
make-up). Seasonal residential patterns may highlight sewer
and water quality/quantity issues for the community. Demographic
information is also useful for assessing the existing community´s
need for public services and natural resources (e.g., clean
water, land), estimating how population changes may increase
pressures on natural resources, and developing strategies
that address the environmental concerns associated with
growth in the community.
Information on economic conditions and trends in a community
help determine how to develop environmental protection strategies
that account for local economic needs as well as environmental
Economic data can tell you how much of the economy is based
on commerce, industry, outdoor recreational, other categories
of tourism, small versus large businesses, and other categories.
Comparing these figures to proposed economic development
plans can help the community decide how it can grow its
economy while still protecting its natural resources. One
can also analyze what economic endeavors in the past have
been successful and which look promising for the future.
Specifically, employment data can be used to identify the
major sources of employment for communities. It can help
identify what proportion of the community relies on certain
economic sectors (e.g., natural resource-based jobs, tourism,
service) for personal livelihood and the ways in which environmental
protection strategies may affect jobs in the local economy.
Figure 2. shows that employment in the lodging and gaming
industry surpassed by far, any other single industry in
Figure 2. Lake Tahoe Region Employment by Major Industry
Economic information can determine the employment conditions
in the community, determine causes of past job dislocations
(e.g., restrictions on logging or mining activity), anticipate
important changes in the employment base, and identify potential
sources of local environmental change that result from employment
activities. This information is also important for targeting
areas of environmental concern and identifying activities
within the community (e.g., population growth, urban sprawl)
that may compete with development of certain environmental
protection strategies. Economic information can determine
the relationship of dominant employment patterns to the
environment and natural resources, and may be critical in
designing environmentally compatible economic development
Information on economic conditions and employment can lend
important insights into the trade off between money and
other values in the community, thus allowing you to develop
strategies consistent with both.
What Kind of Demographic and
Economic Information are Important for Lake Tahoe?
economics chapter (Chapter 11) of the 2001 Threshold
Evaluation Report, provides an updated economic
description of the Tahoe Basin, including population characteristics,
economic trends, and a section highlighting travel and tourism
in the Basin. It also establishes some goals for monitoring
and using economic and population information. These goals
are to routinely monitor economic conditions, develop a
framework from which to consider economic impacts associated
with policies and regulations, and assist in strategies
for economic development and diversification consistent
with the established environmental threshold carrying capacities.
The 2000 Lake Tahoe Watershed Assessment report
for Lake Tahoe found that, “relatively little comprehensive
or integrated social and economic analysis has been done
in the Basin to date.” TRPA is hoping to improve this condition
in the future.
All kinds of demographic and economic information are important
to understand for the Lake Tahoe Basin. The following list
identifies the kinds of statistics that are currently being
compiled. The next section describes a few these in more
detail, including current characteristics. Refer to the
reports themselves for more details.
- Population characteristics and trends
- Population by geographic area (e.g., county)
- Population growth
- Population by age and race
- School enrollment
- Employment and earnings
- Employment by industry group
- Earnings by industry group
- Unemployment rate
- Sources of personal income
- Economic measures of visitor trends
- Transient occupancy tax receipts
- Gaming revenue
- Skier days
- Housing and commercial development
- Residential construction
- Sale price of residential/vacation home units
- Median home sales prices in the Lake Tahoe Region
- Commercial and accommodations (non-residential)
- Highway traffic
- Highway travel routes
- Average daily traffic
- Seasonal variation in traffic
- Visitor traffic
- Commuting patterns
- Location of residence for Lake Tahoe Region employees
- Economic impacts generated by travel spending
- Spending by type of accommodation
- Spending by type of activity
- Employment generated by travel spending
- Indirect employment generated by visitor spending
- Visitor volume for the Lake Tahoe Region
For the purposes of economic analysis, decision makers
divide the Lake Tahoe Basin into two primary areas: the
Lake Tahoe Region and the Greater Tahoe Area (2001 Threshold
Lake Tahoe Region
The Lake Tahoe Region was defined by the TRPA Compact
in 1980 is intended to represent the area of TRPA management
jurisdiction, which encompasses a large portion of the Lake
Tahoe Basin. The region includes portions of El Dorado and
Placer Counties in California – including the incorporated
City of South Lake Tahoe – as well as portions of Washoe,
Douglas and Carson City Counties in Nevada. (The Carson
City portion of the region is unpopulated and is composed
of U.S. Forest Service and Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
lands). Many of the popular ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe
Area are located a short driving distance outside the region.
Greater Tahoe Area
The Greater Tahoe Area includes the Lake Tahoe Region,
as well as the communities and areas surrounding Truckee-Donner,
Olympic and Squaw Valleys, Reno-Carson City, and Minden-Gardnerville.
The Greater Tahoe Area includes all the Lake Tahoe area
ski resorts, as well as other locations for recreation activities
associated with Lake Tahoe. The Greater Tahoe Area also
includes the primary locations where Lake Tahoe Region businesses
and employees are most likely to purchase a significant
portion of goods, services and housing.
Figure 3 shows the
boundaries of these two areas.
The map in Figure 1
shows the boundaries of these areas.
Most of the Lake Tahoe Basin lies in the political jurisdictions
of 4 counties – El Dorado and Placer counties in California
and Washoe and Douglas in Nevada. There is one incorporated
municipality, the City of South Lake Tahoe (CSLT) on the
southern shore of the Lake. Actual growth in the Basin in
recent years has been relatively slow (about 0.4% from 1990
to 1998) due to an ambitious land acquisition program and
strict regulatory environment, although growth in the surrounding
areas is significantly higher (2.7% over the same time period).
This is important as growth around the Basin can affect
environmental quality in many ways, even though the people
are not directly living by the Lake. For example, much
of the growth in surrounding areas is for workers in the
Lake Tahoe area – commuting and the resultant traffic congestion
can have a significant impact on environmental quality and
The largest concentration of people is on the southern
shore, in El Dorado County and the City of South Lake Tahoe.
The present population of the area as a whole – all four
counties and the City of South Lake Tahoe – stands at about
55,00 permanent residents. This number swells significantly
during some of the popular tourist months during summer
and winter and millions visit the Basin each year.
For a detailed discussion of the demography and economy
of the Lake Tahoe Basin, refer the to Chapter 11 of the
TRPA 2001 Threshold Evaluation Report and
6, “Social, Economic, and Institutional Assessment,” of
the 2000 Lake Tahoe Watershed Assessment report.