Paddlewheelers returning to Emerald Bay |

Paddlewheelers returning to Emerald Bay

Griffin Rogers
The Tahoe Queen sat at a dock in shallow waters in January. The cruise ship stopped running at the time due to Lake Tahoe's low water levels.
File photo |

A Lake Tahoe paddlewheeler that couldn’t cross into Emerald Bay earlier this year because of shallow waters will now be able to resume the run thanks to rising lake water levels.

The M.S. Dixie II already has made some tours of the bay but is undergoing maintenance now.

A second big tour boat, the Tahoe Queen, also had been tied up due to shallow waters but now is back in service and bringing tourists into the bay. Both boats are operated by divisions of Aramark Parks and Destinations.

Tahoe water levels had risen several inches since January. On Thursday, the surface of the lake was at 6,224.24 feet above sea level, up from 6,223.58 feet about three months ago.

Recent storms have contributed to the increase. But a poor snow season has added relatively little water content for California’s reservoirs, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

“This is dismal news for farms and cities that normally depend on — often called California’s largest reservoir — for a third of their water,” DWR stated in a press release. “And reservoirs are not making up the difference.”

Low lake levels this summer could create a number of challenges for boaters, lake-related businesses and agencies that patrol the lake, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

Petty Officer Mark Daly, of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Tahoe City, said that from a search-and-rescue standpoint there’s a concern about lake levels dropping.

“Obviously we are concerned, just like every other law enforcement agency we’ve talked to,” he said.

Local Coast Guard personnel are already preparing to face issues that arise because of shallow waters, Daly said, adding that many agencies are also worried about not having enough water to launch their boats.

Gene St. Denis, owner of Blue Ribbon Fishing Charters, shared some of Daly’s concerns, saying that some marinas are already closed to launching while others have to be launched out of “with care.”

He said caution should be taken after launch as well, as rocks are appearing in low-water areas. The entrance to Emerald Bay, which is about five or six feet deep now, can also get fairly shallow and “You need to know these areas really good and be updated on them,” he said.

Earlier this year, Federal Water Master Chad Blanchard said water levels could dip below Lake Tahoe’s 6,223-foot natural rim and create several challenges in the region.

Now, the wet season is coming to an end. And California is on track to perhaps its fifth- or sixth-driest year, according to DWR.

“Although 2013 was the driest calendar year on record for much of California, last-minute November and December storms in 2012 — the first year of the current drought — replenished major reservoirs to somewhat mitigate dry conditions,” DWR said in statement. “That comfortable reservoir cushion is now gone.”

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