Runoff Affects Lake Tahoe Clarity
Every spring and summer, Lake Tahoe has a small drop in clarity.
Every spring and summer, Lake Tahoe has a small drop in clarity. In 2017, the clarity could be the worst it’s been in years as a result of a wet winter.
The lake’s clarity loss is a result from snow melt and the debris that comes with it.
During years of drought, Tunnel Creek may run dry. However, following a record breaking winter, the stream is now rushing through Hidden Beach at Lake Tahoe.
Sasha Severance is a Lake Tahoe native and even she is surprised by the creek's size.
“There's been a little runoff where it's small, but not this much," says Severance.
Tunnel creek is located in what's called a stream environment zone or SEZ. SEZ’s act as natural filters where the plants will catch sediment. Jay Howard, park supervisor with the Lake Tahoe Nevada state park, says with more runoff flowing through the creek than average, some pollutants are still finding their way into the lake.
"It brings a lot of sediment naturally and that sediment can be responsible for the growth of algae," says Howard.
Howard says it's not just more sediment in the lake; runoff has brought natural debris like wood chips and tree bark onto local beaches too.
"We are usually so busy here at Sand Harbor we don't normally have a lot of time to get out to Hidden Beach to do clean up, so we really count on the public to help us out there," says Howard.
Severance says she and many other locals recognize the responsibility of caring for Tahoe beaches, especially during Memorial Day weekend when many visitors come to the lake.
"A bunch of us came down here beginning of spring and did a huge trash cleanup and some of it's from that runoff," says Severance.
The snow pack runoff is expected to reach its peak by summer. Even though the lake's clarity will continue to get worse, a turn-around is expected by fall.
"That's when run-off slows down to almost nil, and the lake tends to respond and be a little bit clearer," says Howard.