Spring runoff begins, might not spike until June
INCLINEVILLAGE – At more than 6,227 feet, Lake Tahoe’s water level this month is as high as it has been since September of 2000, and some say this is just the beginning.
Domi Fellers, Clean Water Team coordinator for the Incline Village General Improvement District, said spring runoff has not yet hit its apex.
“With this warm weather, today could be a big kick-off day (for runoff),” Fellers said as she headed out with a staff of Clean Water Team volunteers last Thursday. “But we’re nowhere near the flows later in May.”
Each month, Fellers and the rest of the team head out to monitor Incline’s creeks, including Third Creek, Deer Creek and Rosewood Creek.
At several sites along each creek, volunteers collect samples and observe the flow rate and color of the water. They also record statistics such as the temperature, pH, dissolved solids and conductivity.
The Clean Water Team focuses on collecting data from creeks where data is not gathered by U.S. Geological Service monitors. Volunteers also collect types of data not collected by USGS such as fecal coliform levels.
Monthly streamflow statistics collected by the USGS since 1969 for Third Creek, the largest creek in Incline’s watershed, show the median flow rates in cubic feet per second to rise steadily through May and peak in June.
Chad Blanchard, chief hydrologist at the federal watermasters’ office in Reno, said the lake is predicted to rise about 1.5 feet in the coming months – enough to bring the water level to within .2 feet of its 6229.1 feet upper limit.
Consequently, Blanchard said pending how quickly runoff occurs, the watermaster for the Truckee River might ask for a federal court order allowing him to breach the Truckee River Operating Agreement and spill water from the Truckee River dam. A heavy snow pack last year kept enough water flowing in the Truckee River that the Truckee River Dam in Tahoe City did not begin to spill until mid-July.
For rafting companies who count on the dam’s flow of water for business big winters – especially big late winters – can mean a late beginning to rafting season.
“There is not much we can do about it,” said Richard Courcier, co-owner of the Truckee River Rafting Company. “We were closed 1990 through 1995 because of the drought. And then in the summer of 96 there was too much water and we could not raft because the river was flooding all summer.”
Courier, who has been renting boats in Tahoe for nearly 30 years, said he keeps abreast of flow rates on the Truckee River by staying in touch with the Truckee River watermaster and frequently checking the USGS Web sites with river flow rates.
To see the daily flow rates of Third Creek or the Truckee River visit the USGS Web site http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/nv/nwis/.
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