High water level damages Lake Tahoe beachfront properties

Claire Cudahy
Erosion from a high water year has damaged a number of beachfront properties in Marla Bay.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

STATELINE, Nev. — After last winter’s big snowfall and this year’s “Miracle March,” which pounded the basin with feet of much-needed snow, Lake Tahoe’s water level has remained high and the Tahoe City dam has been releasing more water down the Truckee River. But for one lakefront community, it’s not happening fast enough.

In the Zephyr Cove neighborhood Marla Bay, beachfront properties have suffered from two years of water levels well above the lake’s natural rim, which sits at an elevation of 6,223 feet.

“We’ve had sea walls falling down. We don’t have any beach. All of the sand is sucked out into the lake. It’s not been pretty,” said Scott Smith, president of the Marla Bay Protective Association. “It has happened in the past, but this has been the worst because it’s two years in a row.”

Last spring, following years of drought, the U.S. District Court Water Master Chad Blanchard increased water flow from the Tahoe City dam for the first time since 2006. Blanchard is required by law to keep the water below the surface elevation of 6,229.1 feet, the federal legal limit set to protect lakefront development from damage.

“I’ve pleaded with the water master to drop the lake, and he said he can’t — he’s bound by law,” said Smith.

Blanchard determines how much water to release from the dam when it nears the federal legal limit based off current lake level, snowpack and the upcoming weather forecast. There are strict regulations that govern when and how much water he can release.

This year, after a dry December, January and February, Blanchard did not need to release excess water until March 22.

From March 1 to March 25, the Sierra snowpack grew from 25 percent of normal to 73 percent.

“We were to the point after a gigantic March — one of the biggest Marches ever —where the lake rose dramatically and the forecast rose and on the 22nd we received a forecast for inflow and that’s when we started increasing releases,” explained Blanchard.

As of Thursday, the lake’s surface elevation is 6,228.74 — about 4 inches from the legal limit — and the dam is continuing to let out additional water.

“We are probably one of the only communities to really have this big problem with the lake level because of the way the wind blows right at us,” said Smith. “But that’s just part of the life of being in Lake Tahoe with high water.”

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