From: Don Thompson, Associated Press
Published June 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Sierra Nevada Growth To Bring More Congestion, Development, Report Says

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The population of the Sierra Nevada could triple in the next 35 years, threatening many of the mountain range's Gold Rush-era towns with sprawl, gridlock and pollution, according to a report released Tuesday.


About 600,000 people live in the 20 California and three Nevada counties that divide the Sierra, a population projected to grow to between 1.5 million and 2.4 million by 2040, according to the Sierra Nevada Alliance, a 12-year-old coalition of more than 60 environmental organizations.


Poor planning for that growth invites the problems that have plagued more populous areas, warns the Alliance in the first of a planned series of reports on the health of the range's natural resources.


Seven of the 20 California counties have general plans more than 10 years old, although five of them are expecting updates. But fewer than a third have plotted areas that deserve protection from development, and most have no conservation plans.


"Population in and of itself really isn't a problem. It's how well we plan for it," said Joan Clayburgh, the alliance's executive director. "Ten years ago, they weren't expecting all these population increases."


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Overall, a third of the 400-mile-long range is privately owned, but that percentage varies among counties. Private landowners own half the land in 10 of the 20 California counties, and two-thirds or more of the acreage in five of those counties.


The amount of developed land could double over the next half-century, even using conservative projections. Traffic congestion already has followed an increase in home building, and the environmental coalition fears a cascading effect on air and water quality in a region that provides much of California's water storage and hydroelectricity.


The counties most affected are Placer, El Dorado and Nevada, all within commuting distance of Sacramento. Placer County's population is expected to grow by 84 percent, El Dorado's by 42 percent and Nevada County's by 38 percent by 2020.


California state Assemblyman Tim Leslie fears overburdening private property owners with restrictions on developing or altering their land. That's one reason he backed this year's creation of a Sierra Nevada Conservancy charged with protecting resources, promoting tourism and enhancing recreation in the area.


"I think the idea isn't to close it down, but to rather be smart and make it work for everybody," Leslie said. "The Sierra needs to have a vital economy just like the rest of California. ... I think there's a balance that needs to be struck."


Source: Associated Press


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