Record winter snowfall in the mountains around Lake Tahoe has resulted in 72 billion gallons of water poured into the lake since April 1.
The Sierra Nevada mountains that surround Reno and Tahoe are piled high with snow. Unrelenting storms all winter and through most of the spring have resulted in snowpack 190% higher than average. Now that temperatures are warming up, all the snow is starting to melt.
Lake Tahoe has seen a huge impact from the runoff. Since April 1, which marks the beginning of snowmelt season, 72 billion gallons of water has poured into the lake. Chief Deputy Federal Water Master Dave Wathen reported the huge amount as 219,600 acre feet.
The lake is only a foot away from reaching its full capacity and will fill this summer for the first time in 11 years. The water is pouring in fast and experts are predicting that the rise between Oct. 1 2016 and Sept. 30 2017 will be record-breaking.
“What we’ve come up so far and what we expect to come up will be the largest rise at the lake in 117 years of recorded history,” said Wathen.
Lake Tahoe is the sixth largest lake in the United States and is world-renowned for its incredibly clear, blue waters. The alpine beauty straddles the California-Nevada border and outdoor enthusiasts come from all around the world to play in its waters and surrounding mountains. The lake is also the main water source for Reno-Sparks, fed by 63 tributaries that drain 505 square miles as the Lake Tahoe Watershed. Tahoe has an enormous surface area of 191 square miles, which means that it takes a whole lot of water to fill. And with over 300 days of sunshine a year in Northern Nevada, roughly 100 billion gallons of water evaporate annually.
With its natural rim at 6,223 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe can also store another 6.1 feet in its reservoir bringing its full capacity and legal maximum limit to 6,229.1 feet. There is only one outlet, a dam in Tahoe City which regulates the upper 6.1 feet just above the low water mark. This winter, the dam is releasing billions of gallons of water into the Truckee River.
The lake still needs another 120,000 acre feet to fill it up. This should be no problem, as state water managers are projecting 236,400 more acre feet of water to pour into the lake between now and the end of the water year.
“It’s not typical to have this much water, but given the snow pack, we’re getting what we expected,” Wathen said. “We’ve planned on a certain amount of water coming in and we’re managing the release and we don’t expect any problems.”
The lake experiencing record-high levels now is a huge milestone especially after coming out of a five-year drought in neighboring California. At this same time last year, the lake was 4.1 feet lower. The weather consisted of winter storms that shook the Sierra into April of this year. The Lake Tahoe Basin has 10 more inches of precipitation that any year in recording history, which goes all the back to 1910. Because of the lake’s large surface area, the precipitation is enough to provide a significant rise on its own.
We are looking forward to enjoying Lake Tahoe this summer, from lounging on the beach to hiking the surrounding forest. There aren’t many other places in the world where you can ski in the morning (in May) and enjoy the beach in the afternoon. Plan your visit to Lake Tahoe and Reno to see if this is the place that you would like to call home.
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