Lake Tahoe and Area Reservoirs Expected To Fill, This Year
Lake Tahoe is having a banner year. After starting out with drier than normal conditions, the lake has rebounded in a way that has never been seen before.
Lake Tahoe is having a banner year. After starting out with drier than normal conditions, the lake has rebounded in a way that has never been seen before. On average, the lake's water level increases 1.3 feet during the winter, and another 1.3 feet during the spring runoff. Since October, it has already risen nearly four feet.
"At the beginning of this year, we were a half-foot plus below the natural rim, and it looks very likely that we will fill Tahoe," Chad Blanchard, U.S. District Court Water Master said. "So, that will be the largest physical rise on Tahoe in history."
The current elevation of Lake Tahoe is 6,226.2 feet. If more precipitation and runoff happens, it will likely reach its legal capacity of 6,229.1 feet. Snowpack is more than 200 percent in some areas of the Sierra, so runoff is also expected to be higher than average. As the lake gets closer to its limit, officials will have to find a balance of the amount of water to release, compared to the amount of inflow expected.
"You have to fill," Blanchard said. "We are mandated to fill but you want to do it in a manner where we don't end up spilling too much and causing issues downstream."
That is why water is being released, ahead of time. Lake Tahoe's surface area is 120,000 acres. So, one storm could have a huge impact, simply because of its size.
"When the lake is full and the gates are wide open, you can only release a little over 4/100 of a foot of water from Tahoe, a day, and we can get half a foot on a big storm, rise, in a day," Blanchard said.
Last winter was average for precipitation, following four years of drought. So, despite the issues that have come along with heavy rain and snow, the outlook is good for the water supply for residents and agricultural use.
"It's a huge boost for our water supply," Blanchard said. "Tahoe alone, if we fill Tahoe, we'll have three years worth of supply."
Precipitation usually drops off, starting in March, but if February ends the way it started, the reservoirs will be full by summer.
"It's amazing to start,' Blanchard said. "Basically, empty at all the reservoirs, and in one year, fill it up. We know this can happen. It's very unlikely but here we are."