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Low water to impact fishing and wildlife

Griffin Rogers
griffin@tahoedailytribune.com
Lake Tahoe's water level fell below its natural 6,223-foot rim for the first time in five years last week. This photo was taken at Regan Beach earlier this year.
Griffin Rogers / File Photo |

Lake Tahoe’s water elevation has reached a five-year low, dropping under the natural rim and leaving questions as to what impacts low water might have on the surrounding area.

One result is that the Truckee River, the only river Lake Tahoe releases into, has become little more than a weak stream in some spots. It’s rocky, shallow and slower than usual.

Under better conditions, the Nevada Department of Wildlife would be electrofishing in the river this month to gather data on local fish populations. However, there just isn’t enough water to conduct those tests this year.

“We can tell you it’s certainly not good for the river and the aquatic life in it,” NDOW spokesperson Chris Healy said of the low water levels, “but we wont be able to assess it until we’re able to electrofish next year.”

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That’s hoping there is enough water to conduct the tests next October.

Experts predicted earlier this year that the lake’s water levels would drop below the basin’s natural rim, which is 6,223 feet above sea level. Those predictions became a reality last week, making it the 18th time the lake has done so in the last century.

Healy said it could be awhile before researchers can determine what the impacts of that event are, but one thing is certain if water levels don’t rise: recreation will be effected.

Some of this was seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Lake Tahoe stayed under the natural rim for several years. The Truckee River’s larger fish population took a significant hit, and it wasn’t able to recover completely until around the early 2000s, he said.

“We can rebuild a fishery fairly quickly, but all those naturally producing fish you love to see… it takes awhile to build the population back up,” Healy said.

Fowl hunting and bird watching could also be affected in areas the Truckee River contributes to, such as the Lahontan Reservoir, he added.

Lake Tahoe was about half an inch under the rim Monday, which was still a ways from its record low of 6,220.2 feet in 1992.

That record was during one of two instances when the lake’s elevation dropped below the natural rim “for an extended period of time,” the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency reported in a press release.

The first was from 1930 to 1936, and the second was from 1988 to 1995.

“This is another reminder of the impacts that drought can have on our environment and emphasizes the need for everyone to conserve our precious water resources,” according to the TRPA statement.


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