Officials worry about terrorism at reservoir |

Officials worry about terrorism at reservoir

David Bunker
Josh Miller/Tribune News Service Low water levels can be seen by driving to the boat launch on the west side of Boca Reservoir.

TRUCKEE – Boaters and water skiers at Boca Reservoir who have watched reservoir levels continually drop may have their recreation activities disrupted by a new problem – the threat of terrorism.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials warn that Boca Dam Road will close when the reservoir rises above 31,000 acre feet due to terrorism fears at the dam. During periods of high-water levels, motorists hauling boats will have to navigate the eastern side of the lake, part of it on a dirt road, to get to their launching points.

The road closure would only apply to four-wheeled vehicles, and is not expected to be triggered often, as dry conditions have current lake levels well below the 31,000-acre-foot point.

However, members of the water ski club at Boca Reservoir question whether it would be better to raise water levels even if the road would close as a result. Groups that use Boca Reservoir are considering signing a letter to petition the Bureau of Reclamation to let reservoir levels rise.

Currently, because of the security risk, Boca is kept artificially low as more water is stored upstream in Stampede Reservoir, or passed through the dam into the Little Truckee River. Because of the dry conditions, the boat ramp on the west side of the reservoir slants into more than 50 feet of mud before reaching water.

“I’m going to be honest … these are real risks,” said Pablo Arroyave of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who added that there is no obvious engineering solution to the security risk.

The Bureau of Reclamation refused to give specific information about the terrorism threat, but the news is just the latest in a string of disappointing forecasts this spring for lake users.

While precipitation in the region has not been drastically low, dry conditions from six years of drought have caused the precipitation that has fallen to soak straight into the ground rather than run off into lakes and reservoirs.

The low runoff has caused Lake Tahoe’s water level to dip below the rim, an unusual circumstance that John Sarna of the Department of Water Resources said happens an average of once every 10 to 20 years.

Runoff is not the only problem. High temperatures have increased evaporation rates, which account for more than 20 times the amount of water that leaves the lake at the Truckee River outlet in Tahoe City.

A forecast chart showing summer lake storage and stream flow data, is heavily speckled with red, indicating minimum water levels in many area streams and lakes over the summer.

“It’s going to be a significant year in terms of low lake levels,” said Kathleen Eagan, a member of the Truckee River Water Basin Group.

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