Water barely trickling into Truckee River | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water barely trickling into Truckee River

TAHOE CITY — It is only slightly ironic that National Water Monitoring Day has come and gone and yet there’s hardly any water in the Truckee River to monitor. With the water level of Truckee and Lake Tahoe approaching record lows, some observers are concerned about future water supply for the region. Nevertheless, in honor of National Water Monitoring Day and the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Geological Survey and Sierra Watershed Education Partnership put on special programs during the last two weeks to educate Tahoe area teachers and students about water quality. Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River are noticeably low. According to Gerald Rockwell, USGS field office chief for Carnelian Bay, the lake is currently three-tenths of a foot above the natural rim. “Right now the dam serves no purpose. All the gates are open,” said Rockwell. “The natural rim is controlling the flow of water.” Rockwell attributes the low water level to three consecutive years of modest precipitation. Even though there appeared to be a lot of snow last winter, it was only 80-85 percent of average snowfall, he said. The highest recorded peak for the Truckee River was in January 1997, when the river was flowing at 2,690 cubic feet per second. Average flow for October is 181 cubic feet per second. Today, the Truckee is flowing at 17 cubic feet per second. Nevertheless, the river has been lower before. In the early 1990s it went completely dry due to drought in the late 1980s. If the flow of the Truckee River dries up anymore, it could have dire consequences for downstream communities. “The Reno/Sparks area relies heavily on water from the Truckee. They would have to get their water somewhere else or pump wells, which is more expensive,” Rockwell said. The Federal Watermaster’s Office in Reno is making up the difference by taking water from the Boca Reservoir. However, Federal Watermaster Gary Stone says that without future rain, Boca will be empty and Lake Tahoe will be at its natural rim by December. “It’s a matter of great concern for me,” said Stone. “(The amount of water) totally depends on next winter.” While Reno/Sparks has enough water to get through the winter, its water supply could be in danger next summer if there isn’t a big winter, according to Stone. In cooperation with the California Department of Water Resources, the USGS has been operating a stream monitoring station along the Truckee River in Tahoe City since 1957, although data has been collected on the site since 1895 and a continuous data recorder was installed in 1946. The stream gauge allows the USGS to monitor the quantity and quality of water leaving the lake, water and air temperature, precipitation, and conductivity (salts and dissolved solids). The information is used to provide flood warning, water supply forecasting, and water quality monitoring to more than 15 federal, state, and local agencies. The gauge records air temperature and precipitation every 15 minutes while water temperature and conductivity is recorded every hour. The data is transmitted by satellite to a database every four hours, which is available two minutes later on the USGS Web site (www.usgs.gov). The information is also sent to the Washoe County Flood Warning Center three times a day, unless there is a flood, in which case the data is transmitted continuously. Additionally, USGS staff takes measurements from the Truckee River once a month for water supply forecasting.

Spring runoff begins, might not spike until June

INCLINEVILLAGE – At more than 6,227 feet, Lake Tahoe’s water level this month is as high as it has been since September of 2000, and some say this is just the beginning. Domi Fellers, Clean Water Team coordinator for the Incline Village General Improvement District, said spring runoff has not yet hit its apex. “With this warm weather, today could be a big kick-off day (for runoff),” Fellers said as she headed out with a staff of Clean Water Team volunteers last Thursday. “But we’re nowhere near the flows later in May.” Each month, Fellers and the rest of the team head out to monitor Incline’s creeks, including Third Creek, Deer Creek and Rosewood Creek. At several sites along each creek, volunteers collect samples and observe the flow rate and color of the water. They also record statistics such as the temperature, pH, dissolved solids and conductivity. Regional impact The Clean Water Team focuses on collecting data from creeks where data is not gathered by U.S. Geological Service monitors. Volunteers also collect types of data not collected by USGS such as fecal coliform levels. Monthly streamflow statistics collected by the USGS since 1969 for Third Creek, the largest creek in Incline’s watershed, show the median flow rates in cubic feet per second to rise steadily through May and peak in June. Chad Blanchard, chief hydrologist at the federal watermasters’ office in Reno, said the lake is predicted to rise about 1.5 feet in the coming months – enough to bring the water level to within .2 feet of its 6229.1 feet upper limit. Consequently, Blanchard said pending how quickly runoff occurs, the watermaster for the Truckee River might ask for a federal court order allowing him to breach the Truckee River Operating Agreement and spill water from the Truckee River dam. A heavy snow pack last year kept enough water flowing in the Truckee River that the Truckee River Dam in Tahoe City did not begin to spill until mid-July. Financial impact For rafting companies who count on the dam’s flow of water for business big winters – especially big late winters – can mean a late beginning to rafting season. “There is not much we can do about it,” said Richard Courcier, co-owner of the Truckee River Rafting Company. “We were closed 1990 through 1995 because of the drought. And then in the summer of 96 there was too much water and we could not raft because the river was flooding all summer.” Courier, who has been renting boats in Tahoe for nearly 30 years, said he keeps abreast of flow rates on the Truckee River by staying in touch with the Truckee River watermaster and frequently checking the USGS Web sites with river flow rates. To see the daily flow rates of Third Creek or the Truckee River visit the USGS Web site http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/nv/nwis/.

DRI receives money for cloud seeding

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Cloud seeding operations will continue throughout the state thanks to the support of regional governments and water authorities. On Tuesday, the Desert Research Institute (DRI) announced it had earned a $155,000 grant from the Truckee River Fund, created by Truckee Meadows Water Authority to protect and enhance water quality and water resources, plus an additional $100,000 contribution from the Western Regional Water Commission. The money pays for the operation of five cloud-seeding generators west of Lake Tahoe. We estimate that cloud seeding has augmented snow water an average of about 18,000 acre-feet for the Tahoe-Truckee region during the last 13 years that we ve been operating the program. That s enough to supply about 40,000 households with water annually, said Arlen Huggins, director of the DRI Cloud Seeding Program. Last year, Huggins and his colleagues seeded 56 weather events (due to optimal seeding conditions last winter), w ith an estimated increase of about 20,000 acre-feet of snow water, or nearly 6.6 billion gallons. At a cost of about $10 per acre foot of water you can t pass up the opportunity to add water to the Truckee River Basin, said John Breternitz, Washoe County commissioner and TMWA board member. In addition to the operations in the Sierra, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is sponsoring a program in northeast Nevada at $292,802 for seven generators in the Ruby Mountains. This is the second year for the SNWA funded program. And the Bureau of Reclamation and the Walker River Irrigation District approved a five-year project at $1.5 million to seed in the Walker River Basin. The project will start this winter and run through 2015. Cloud seeding has been conducted in the Sierra Nevada since the 1950s and in the Lake Tahoe area since the 1960s. As a form of weather modification, wintertime cloud seeding is aimed at enhancing snowfall in mountainous region s to increase the snowpack, resulting in more spring runoff and water supplies to the surrounding areas. DRI scientists have played a major role in cloud seeding research and a specific DRI evaluation method using ultra trace chemical analysis of snow samples continues to be applied in ongoing research and operational seeding projects in Nevada, California, Colorado, Wyoming and Australia. TMWA created The Truckee River Fund in 2004 for projects that protect and enhance water quality or water resources of the Truckee River and its watershed. The fund requires a minimum 25 percent match from requesting organizations.

Dam opened, rafting begins

Commercial rafting companies opened for business Wednesday and expect a long and busy summer of floating on the Truckee River. “We may actually have a more consistent raft year this year than we did last,” said Gary Perona, business manager for the Truckee River Raft Co., which kicked off its season Wednesday. “We are being promised as much as possible that we will have a consistent flow.” Truckee River Rafting with Mountain Air Sports will launch rafts today. The company hasn’t accepted many reservations for its opening week because the starting date was not set sooner, but they do have people booked for the weekend, said part-owner Judy Bell. Rafting season typically starts sometime between Memorial Day Weekend and mid-June, Perona said, so this year is right on target. But before the season kicks off, the river flow must be at least 120 cubic feet per second, Bell said. The U.S. District Court Water Master ordered the Tahoe City dam to open its gates Monday, releasing 100 cfs from Lake Tahoe. Wednesday afternoon Perona estimated the water flow near 200 cfs and expects the weekend to be closer to 300 cfs. “We’re just going to have to wait and see and watch the natural flow in the system, and if that drops we’ll keep increasing [the water flow],” said chief hydrologist Chad Blanchard. “As natural flow drops, we need more and more water from storage to meet those minimum flows.” Blanchard said the Federal Water Master’s office can release water from Lake Tahoe for only three reasons: To maintain the Floriston rate at the state line of 500 cfs in the summer and 400 in the winter, to release a minimum of 50 and 70 cfs in the winter and summer respectively, or to preclude the lake from exceeding its storage limit. Last summer the commercial rafting operations endured a few rough business days when Lake Tahoe’s high level forced officials to release surplus water into the river, causing some flooding and erosion, Perona said. They had to close their businesses for nearly two weeks, he added. But with a promising start to this year’s Truckee River raft season, commercial operations are counting on a profitable summer. “It’s going to be a great season, and we’ll go through Labor Day,” he said. Truckee River rafting FAST FACTS: • Minimum release from Lake Tahoe is 50 cubic feet per second in winter and 70 cfs during summer • The upper legal limit of Lake Tahoe is 6,229.10 feet • Tahoe Whitewater Tours has been rafting between Boca and Floriston since before Memorial Day Weekend • The Federal Water Master’s office in Reno does not physically open the Tahoe City dam gates, but a local resident does • Commercial raft companies are hoping the water flow will be at 300 cfs for the weekend

Weather Window: 2011 winter legacy

TAHOE/TRUCKEE – The epic winter of 2011 is finally winding down after pounding the Sierra with enough snow to set new records for seasonal accumulation at major Tahoe resorts. The official 2011 water year won’t end until Sept. 30, but because April, May, and June combined typically provide only 12 percent of annual snowfall and 16 percent of our annual precipitation (summer precipitation is statistically negligible), the worst is likely over. There hasn’t been enough snow at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory (CSSL) near Donner Pass this April to bump 2011 past 16th position on the list of snowiest winters since 1878, but the game isn’t over yet and the Storm King might have a few more surprises for us. In April 1880, Donner Pass was bombarded with a record 25 feet of snow, an impressive onslaught that boosted 1880 into third place for the all-time snowiest winter. At the end of March 2011, the snowpack at Norden and Serene Lakes near Donner Pass approached 20 feet deep on the level, with the 17.2 feet recorded at the CSSL the fifth deepest since its establishment in 1946. The heavy snow loads pulled down power and phone lines, while propane leaks in the Serene Lakes community caused an explosion that destroyed a three-story house and forced a voluntary evacuation order. The seemingly endless storms in March dumped 248 percent of the average precipitation for the month at Lake Tahoe, and left a snowpack nearly double normal. The deluge of precipitation (combination of rain and snow melted for its water content) did wonders for the water supply outlook for Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River basin, and decisively broke a four-year dry spell. In the Truckee River Basin, reservoir storage at major reservoirs were all at or above average, compared to last year when storage was only 67 percent of normal. On April 1, water values in the Lake Tahoe Basin snowpack were measured at 173 percent of normal for the date. Last year it was only 87 percent of average. Better yet, Lake Tahoe’s water level has already risen more than 2 feet since last October, and is forecast to rise another 2.30 feet to its high elevation of about 6,228 feet, just 13 inches below the maximum allowed by federal law. This dramatic rise of 4 to 5 feet in Lake Tahoe will rank as one of the top 10 greatest increases since the completion of the Tahoe Dam in 1907. The enormous Sierra snowpack has the potential to generate flooding on both sides of the range. The San Joaquin River system and its tributaries appear most at risk due to above average runoff and unusually high water levels in its reservoir system. Historically, peak reservoir inflows from the melting snowpack in the central and southern Sierra don’t occur until mid to late May, so high water issues and flood damage will be a concern for another 8 to 10 weeks. Flood potential in the Truckee-Tahoe region is classified as above average on Lake Tahoe tributaries as well as the uncontrolled feeder streams on the Truckee River above Reno. Fortunately, despite the rapid rise this year of Lake Tahoe’s water level, there is still plenty of storage available in Big Blue, as well as in flood control reservoirs like Prosser, Stampede and Boca, to prevent major damage on the main stem of the Truckee River. This spring’s massive snowmelt runoff appears controllable at the moment, but all bets are off if an extended heat wave engulfs the region or if a significant rain event should occur.

Despite dry winter, Nevada lake levels still adequate for summer

RENO — Despite a third straight winter of below-normal precipitation, northern Nevada lakes and rivers should provide adequate water supplies through the summer, water officials said. “We’re doing a lot better now than at this time last year,” said Gary Barbato, hydrologist at the National Weather Service. “But compared to the average years, it’s OK.” Officials at the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, which provides water to the Reno area, said no new water conservation measures are planned for the summer. Homeowners in Reno and the rest of Washoe County are limited to watering their lawns twice a week. Nevada is the driest state in the nation, averaging less than 10 inches of precipitation a year. “We really need to be saving. Just because we have enough water for this year doesn’t mean we should waste it,” Lori Williams, director of water operations for the water authority, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. Williams is concerned that Lake Tahoe’s water level could be below or at the natural rim at 6,223 feet next year, leaving little or none of the 6 feet of dam storage normally counted on. Tahoe feeds the Truckee River, the Reno area’s major water source. Tahoe’s current level is just one foot above the rim. No more than another foot of water is expected from spring runoff. Nevada is experiencing drought conditions, but other areas in the West are much worse, Barbato said. “Nevada is in a little bit of a drought,” he said. “Northern Nevada is abnormally dry. Southern Nevada is severely dry.” Most areas in Nevada were close to average for the winter with Truckee River runoff a little above at 102 percent. It was 95 percent in the Tahoe Basin, 93 percent along the Carson River and 82 percent for the Walker River. The Humboldt Basin to the east reached 90 percent, while the Colorado Basin to the south suffered.

Lake Tahoe’s level dips toward its natural rim

Heading into fall, Lake Tahoe and other area lakes and reservoirs are dipping, and might leave the Truckee River a comparative trickle before snow recharges the water supply again. Two slow winters in a row – feeding 31 percent and 32 percent of normal runoff into Tahoe – mean that the lake could drop below its natural rim unless precipitation shows up this fall. This means the top of the Truckee River could go dry, and other water stores will have to be leaned on more heavily to supply the Reno-Sparks area. “At this point it looks like we will get very close to Tahoe’s natural rim,” said Chad Blanchard, chief hydrologist for the U.S. District Court Water Masters Office. As of last week, the lake was at 6223.80, within 8 inches of the natural rim and down to just 15 percent of the dam’s total storage capacity, he said. “As the lake drops, the amount going over the dam drops, and the amount going down river drops, so we have to supplement that with others. We’re using Boca right now,” Blanchard said. “By the end of the year, Boca could be very low also.” Bill Hauck, the water supply coordinator for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, said Boca Reservoir could empty to 5 percent of its top capacity. Prosser Lake will dip down to about one-third of its total capacity, and Stampede will be about half its normal volume, Blanchard said. Donner Lake is being drawn down as usual this fall, emptying the top 9 feet of the lake into Donner Creek, Hauck said. Windy weather has played a major role in lake levels, especially on the enormous surface area of Tahoe, Blanchard said. “If it is windy, it creates huge amounts of evaporation off the lake,” Blanchard said. The Truckee has been meeting the minimum required rate of 500 cubic feet of water per second, called the Floriston rate, Blanchard said. Blanchard said the flow could slow beyond that minimum rate, but said water demand in Reno and Sparks also drops significantly in the winter, so supplies should be OK. “We’re hoping for a great winter, but even if we don’t have a great winter we have adequate drought supplies in place,” Hauck said. And as for predicting what winter will bring, Blanchard said it’s too early to make any meaningful predictions. The real forecasting for water supply happens when precipitation is actually on the ground, he said. “I talk to the weather service and the California Nevada River Forecast Center regularly,” Blanchard said. “There’s nothing concrete but we’re hoping for a wet winter.”

Lake Tahoe weather: 1-2 feet of snow, 120 mph winds, rain on tap Monday

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — The greater Lake Tahoe-Truckee region is in for a bunch more wet — and some snowy — weather this week. A winter storm warning began Sunday night and remains in effect until 10 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service in Reno. Up to 3 inches of snow is possible by Monday night in Truckee, 2 to 4 inches for Lake Tahoe, and 1 to 2 feet along the Sierra crest from Donner Pass to Mammoth Mountain. "Strong winds will continue in all locations, with dangerous whiteout conditions along the ridges and in the backcountry," according to the storm warning. Southwest winds gusting to 50 to 60 mph are possible in the valleys, according to NWS, and ridges will see gusts over 120 mph. Wave heights on Lake Tahoe are expected to be between 3 and 6 feet tall. Snow levels will vary from 6,000 and 6,500 feet, according to NWS. "This could impact how much snowfall occurs for communities such as Truckee and around Lake Tahoe," according to NWS. "As a result, snowfall forecasts for these areas are lower than average confidence." After Monday's winter storm warning ends, a flood watch begins for the greater Tahoe-Truckee area and surrounding regions from 10 p.m. Monday to late Tuesday night. "A prolonged atmospheric river will produce rising snow levels and torrential rains (Monday) night through Tuesday," according to NWS. "This combination along with deep snow cover and wet ground is likely to result in flooding issues across the Eastern Sierra and Northeast California." The highest risk of flooding is along streams, creeks and poor drainage areas. Rivers such as the Truckee, Carson and Walker "will see appreciable rises," according to NWS, but are not expected to breach flood stages.

Lake Tahoe dips to its natural rim

Now fall, Lake Tahoe and other area lakes and reservoirs are dipping, and may leave the Truckee River a comparative trickle before snow recharges the water supply again. Two slow winters in a row ” feeding 31 percent and 32 percent of normal runoff into Tahoe ” mean the lake could drop below its natural rim unless precipitation shows up this fall. This means the top of the Truckee River could go dry, and other water stores will have to be leaned on more heavily to supply the Reno/Sparks area. “At this point it looks like we will get very close to Tahoe’s natural rim,” said Chad Blanchard, chief hydrologist for the U.S. District Court Water Masters Office. Currently the lake is at 6223.80, within 8 inches of the natural rim and down to just 15 percent of the dam’s total storage capacity, he said. “As the lake drops, the amount going over the dam drops and the amount going down river drops, so we have to supplement that with others. We’re using Boca right now,” Blanchard said. “By the end of the year Boca could be very low also.” Bill Hauck, the water supply coordinator for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, said Boca Reservoir could empty to 5 percent of its top capacity. Prosser Lake will dip down to about one-third its total capacity, and Stampede will be about half its normal volume, Blanchard said. Donner Lake is being drawn down as usual this fall, emptying the top 9 feet of the lake into Donner Creek, Hauck said. Windy weather has played a major role in lake levels, especially on the enormous surface area of Tahoe, Blanchard said. “If it is windy it creates huge amounts of evaporation off the lake,” Blanchard said. Right now, the Truckee is meeting the minimum required rate of 500 cubic feet of water per second, called the Floriston rate, Blanchard said. Blanchard said the flow could slow beyond that minimum rate, but said water demand in Reno and Sparks also drops significantly in the winter, so supplies should be all right. “We’re hoping for a great winter, but even if we don’t have a great winter we have adequate drought supplies in place,” Hauck said. And as for predicting what winter will bring, Blanchard said it’s too early to make any meaningful predictions. The real forecasting for water supply happens when precipitation is actually on the ground, he said. “I talk to the weather service and the California Nevada River Forecast Center regularly,” Blanchard said. “There’s nothing concrete but we’re hoping for a wet winter.”

Lake Tahoe weather: Flooding in Truckee, 1-3 feet of snow at high elevations possible by Thursday night

TRUCKEE, Calif. — High-elevation snowfall and lower-elevation flooding is expected in the North Tahoe-Truckee area today and Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Reno. A winter storm warning will be in effect for the greater Truckee-Tahoe region starting at 10 a.m. Thursday through 4 a.m. Friday above 7,000 feet. In all, 1 to 3 feet of snow is forecast for elevations above 8,000 feet, with 6 to 12 inches of snow possible between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, according to NWS. Snow levels will be at 8,000 feet or above into Thursday evening, according to the storm warning, and falling to 7,500 and 7,000 feet around midnight. Snow levels should fall to valley floors by early Friday morning. Winds figure to be major factor with this storm, as NWS is calling for southwest winds at 25 to 35 mph at lake level, with gusts reaching 70 mph. Meanwhile, Sierra ridge gusts could approach 125 mph. "Heavy wet snow and strong winds will create hazardous whiteout conditions for the highest elevations, with visibility dropping to near zero and snowfall rates of 2 to 3 inches per hour at times," according to NWS. Then, there's the rain. A flood warning will be in effect for the Truckee region from Thursday morning through Friday evening, according to NWS. "An atmospheric river will produce a period of intense precipitation on saturated soils with snow levels near and above 8,000 feet on Thursday," according to the warning. "Significant runoff through creeks and streams will likely cause the Truckee River near Truckee to exceed flood stage by early Thursday evening." According to NWS, flood stage for the Truckee River in Truckee is 4.5 feet; as of 2:30 a.m. Thursday, the stage was 1.9 feet. If the forecast holds up, the river will "rise above flood stage by Thursday evening and continue to rise to near 4.9 feet by late Thursday evening," according to NWS. "The river will fall below flood stage by early Friday morning." Further, minor flooding may occur from Bear Creek in the Alpine Meadows area to Truckee; and the Truckee River Bike Path between River Ranch at Alpine Meadows Road to Tahoe City may be "flooded up to a foot deep." "Minor flooding of basements and yards (may occur in) some low-lying homes along the river," according to NWS. NWS officials urge residents and motorists to be alert for heavy rain upstream of your location, which could cause additional rapid rises on rivers and streams. "Valuables should be moved away from areas subject to flooding," according to NWS. "Never drive through flooded areas. Follow the directions of emergency officials." According to the Truckee Fire Protection District, sand bags will be available at 11473 Donner Pass Road (Station 92), along with the town of Truckee and U.S. Forest Service offices at 10811 Stockrest Springs Road. "Don't drive through areas that are flooded, and watch for downed trees and power lines from predicted high winds through (Friday)," according to Truckee Fire.