6,228 feet high and still rising
Lake Tahoe’s waters have almost reached the lake’s brim, and will likely hit that limit by the end of the month, according to water officials.
The lake has not reached such a height since 2000, when it filled to its brim in June, said Chad Blanchard, hydrologist with the federal watermaster’s office in Reno.
At 6,228.9 feet high on Wednesday, the waters of Tahoe were only one-fifth of a foot below the federal legal limit for the lake.
Despite opening two gates of the Tahoe City dam last week, releasing 305 cubic feet per second into the Truckee River, the lake is still filling by an average of two-hundredths of a foot each day, said Gary Stone, the federal watermaster in Reno.
“Once it fills, we’ll keep it full,” Stone said.
The difference from last year to this year is evident at Homewood’s Obexer’s Boat Company, even though their deep water ramp allowed them to launch boats through the low-water years.
“Before our ramps were almost treacherous to walk down because they were so steep when the water was so low,” said Sarah Obexer, co-owner of the marina. “This year they are flat.”
At just a few inches below the lake’s brim, the high water has pushed up the floating slips at the marina to their maximum height, she said.
“When people see there is high water levels there is more excitement about boating,” Obexer said.
And Tahoe is not the only body of water in the area gorged by the heavy snowpack now melting under sunny skies. Stampede, Prosser and Boca reservoirs have all filled up early this summer.
“We’ve filled them all,” said Stone. “Stampede is full and spilling over the spillway.”
Federal water controllers are still monitoring snow pack forecasts to determine how much water they will have to spill once Lake Tahoe fills. The ability to predict the future runoff in the Tahoe Basin and adjust the outflow of Tahoe to release the water in a steady stream that allows recreation on the river is a delicate balance, Stone said.
“We may get to a point where (rafters) might not be able to raft because either the water is too low or too high,” he said.
Water controllers also have to gauge evaporation rates on the lake, which equate to an average of 40 inches per year.
Once Lake Tahoe fills and evaporation is high enough to keep it from rising above the legal limit, the watermaster can only release water from the Tahoe City dam is when the Truckee River drops below a level of 500 cubic feet per second at Farad, Nev.