TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Truckee River flow rules mean no water for rafters between Tahoe City and the River Ranch for the Fourth of July.
The late spring runoff has been good for the lower stretches of the Truckee River and other streams, creating generally high flows. But a long-standing federal rule means that as long as the flow is high through Floriston in the Truckee River, the U.S. District Court Water Masters Office can't release extra water from Lake Tahoe, leaving rafting companies on the upper stretch high and dry.
“It's pretty devastating,” said Aaron Rudnick, owner and operator of the Truckee River Raft Company. “It's not even the loss of revenue .... it's 85 kids we'd like to start on their summer jobs before summer is over.”
He said the Fourth of July weekend is generally the biggest weekend of the summer for business. Instead, Rudnick said he'll be renting out the company's parking lot for extra paid parking.
Chad Blanchard, deputy chief water master at the water masters office, said the rule states the office can't let more water than the natural flow out of Tahoe as long as more than 500 cubic feet per second is flowing past Floriston, and as of Thursday, that rate was 930.
“Obviously this is a freak year for extremely late runoff,” Blanchard said. “We don't make the rules and can't change the rules.”
Any change would have to come from the courts he said, but that hasn't stopped people from calling.
“We've gotten calls from congressmen's' offices, senators' offices, everybody in Placer County and individuals screaming and cussing,” Blanchard said.
But on the other side of the coin, the office also is getting calls from Tahoe residents who see the low lake level and are angry any amount of water is released at all, he said.
One of the callers from Placer County who contacted area senators and congressmen was Fifth District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery.
“We're trying to put pressure on the federal water masters office,” Montgomery said. “Those (rafting) companies do a lot of their summer business over the holiday weekend.”
Blanchard said currently the minimum 70 cubic feet per second are spilling over the dam from Tahoe, compared to about 238 last year at this time. Typically rafting companies need at least 120 to 150 cubic feet per second, he said.
“People can still float with personal rafts — it's just the commercial companies that won't operate,” Blanchard said.
The last time rafters weren't able to make the Fourth of July trip from Tahoe City to Alpine Meadows Road was in 2006, when the river was too high, Blanchard said.