Water worries rising | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water worries rising

Susan Wood

Come spring, Lake Tahoe may not get as much snow runoff as originally expected, water officials reported last week.

This is despite an above-average snowpack for the last two snow surveys.

The California Department of Water Resources released on Thursday its annual water report which predicts the level of runoff from the snowmelt between April and July.

“It’s definitely taken a hit within the last two to three weeks in January, and now it looks like we have a dry spell in February,” Chief Hydrologist Frank Gehrke said Friday.

The runoff at Lake Tahoe may affect recreation and ultimately water use in Nevada. In California, it impacts agriculture and energy in the Central Valley.

The statewide runoff forecast amounts to 1 percent more than the average for the American River Basin at 94 percent. But the runoff into Tahoe may be only 76 percent. Water resources officials base the threshold on median conditions.

There are question marks.

February and March are traditionally wet months for the Sierra Nevada, but just 40 percent of the precipitation is left. It officially ends at the end of March.

Still, water storage resulting from a banner December looks promising. Storage currently adds up to 5 million acre feet.

“We’re in much better shape than last year,” Gehrke said.

Runoff at this time last year was less than half this year’s amount.

The clock may be ticking on precipitation for the year, but in the world of weather, anything’s possible.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an El Ni-o to affect the state as early as the end of the month. The tropical weather phenomenon that originates in the South Pacific Ocean may last for a year.

El Ni-o conditions traditionally bring more rain and snow to the Sierra Nevada, but there’s no guarantee which way the oscillation may swing. The basin’s latitude is situated along the cusp of the dry-to-wet borderline.

Almost two weeks ago, the water content in the American River Basin snowpack, taken at Phillips, measured 24.1 inches. That’s 126 percent of average, 6 percentage points higher than the statewide average.

The snowpack measured in at 59 inches.

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