Western water managers, particularly those running reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada, are doing their best to juggle competing issues throughout the watershed. Concerns about burgeoning reservoir storage and dangerous, potentially damaging, downstream water flows have operators watching air temperatures closely for spikes in the snowmelt. Lake Tahoe, in particular, is rapidly closing in on its maximum legal capacity, while significant water remains in the basin's upper elevation snowpack.
Ten days ago, the Tahoe Dam was releasing water at the rate of 2,000 cubic feet per second as seen here. All 17 gates were open at that time. (This is not a record release. In January 1997 and June 1969 flows exceeded that rate by about 650 cfs.) The dam's release rate has since been reduced to 1,310 cfs, but that could easily rise again when temperatures begin to warm next weekend and beyond.
Truckee River at 2,000 cfs. The River Ranch Restaurant and Lodge is the traditional exit zone for summer rafters enjoying the mellow Truckee River float from the Tahoe Dam located about 5 miles upstream. During the drought rafting on this stretch was problematic due to little or no flow coming from Lake Tahoe. This summer there may be too much water for safe rafting or kayaking. Placer County law forbids anyone to be on this section of the river if the flow is greater than 1,205 cfs.
Truckee River at 2,000 cfs. This private bridge across the Truckee River above River Ranch is nearly underwater and obviously a barrier to anyone on a floatation device. Sections of the bike path that runs along the river have also been underwater this spring.
Lake Tahoe's amazing water level rise this winter has set a new record increase for a single season. Big Blue is currently at 6,228.09. It's maximum legal limit is 6,229.01. Water stored in Lake Tahoe is owned and controlled by Nevada. The Silver State would like to see as much water as possible being held behind the dam, but water managers are understandably cautious of allowing the level to reach 100% capacity with no room for error.
Lake Tahoe is a huge lake with many inflows, both surface and groundwater, but its outlet is quite small in comparison. You can see the Tahoe Dam with one of its 17 gates open and Fanny Bridge a short way down stream. This is the headwaters of the Truckee River which will flow north to Truckee and then east into Nevada and the Great Basin. Interesting Tahoe fact: Much more water evaporates off the lake each year than is ever released through the dam.
Up, Up and Away! During this past winter new precipitation records were set for the Northern Sierra Index (1922) as well as for Donner Pass (1871). Current precipitation total for the Central Sierra Snow Lab near Donner Pass is nearly 116" of water (rain and snow water equivalent combined), well over the previous record of 112" set in 1981-82.
Took this photo in Soda Springs near Donner Pass a few days ago to illustrate how much snow remains on the ground at elevations above 7,000 feet. Although this year blew away all previous records for precipitation, the
47 feet of snow measured there so far is only tied with 1911 at 17th place — and still 5 feet shy of 1982, which ranks last in my Snowbound! book that profiles the Top 10 snowiest winters.
SNOWBOUND! also placed third in cover and interior design. Many thanks to my good friend and awesome graphic designer Dohn Riley of Rileyworks.com
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