LAKE TAHOE (KRON) – After one of the driest winters on record, there’s a lot of concern over how the drought conditions will affect Lake Tahoe.
The lake’s water levels have already begun to fall, and there’s simply not enough snowmelt to fill it back to normal.
Earlier this month, the city of South Lake Tahoe closed the El Dorado Beach boat ramp to motorized watercraft.
The reason is that the lake’s water level has dropped to the point where it’s no longer safe to put boats in here.
In fact, the lake is the lowest it has been in five years — The reason is that the Tahoe region has seen two dry winters in a row.
David Wathen is the Chief Deputy Water Master for Lake Tahoe. He says there simply hasn’t been enough precipitation to replace the lake water lost to evaporation and outflows.
“Lack of precipitation, snow, and runoff so we are currently sitting at about two feet above the natural rim of Lake Tahoe,” Wathen said.
Lake Tahoe has a natural maximum capacity where the water level sits at 6,223 feet. They call that the rim.
There is a dam at the north end of the lake that can raise the capacity of the lake to 6,229 feet, an additional six feet. That extra water is used as a reservoir to send water down the Truckee River in the summer months.
As the water level in the lake drops, less and less water will flow through the dam. At some point, there may be no water going over the dam at all.
“When we reach rim control, which could be this summer, late July, early August we will not be able to fully meet our demands downstream,” Wathen said.
That means less water for irrigation, wildlife, and people but there is a silver lining of sorts. One that could make lake Tahoe visitors happy.
“A low water level at Lake Tahoe, however, you have more beaches. When we are high, we get a lot of complaints about lack of beach,” Wathen said.
As for what happens beyond this summer, no one knows.
If we have a rainy year, it could fill the lake back up again and we could be in good shape, but if it’s another dry winter the elevation of the lake could remain low meaning very little water going down the Truckee River for other purposes.