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Lake Tahoe water level hits likely annual high

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POSTED June 6, 2012 8:34 p.m.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The water level of Lake Tahoe hit what could be its high mark for the year after a dry winter and scant spring runoff.

A spattering of rain and snow early in the week nudged it a bit, and the lake's level was measured Tuesday at 6,227.66 feet above sea level — the highest it's likely to get this year before it begins to drop.

"This very well may be the peak," Chad Blanchard, chief deputy water master, told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://on.rgj.com/L37vxY).

The picturesque lake that straddles the Nevada-California line in the Sierra Nevada likely will stay at its current level for a few days as inflow from melting snow keeps pace with the amount of water lost to evaporation.

But evaporation rates could soon exceed inflow under hot and windy conditions.

"Then it will drop," Blanchard said. "The lake will start its long descent through the summer."

Lake Tahoe reached its pivot point nearly two months earlier than last year, when an epic winter layered the Sierra Nevada in drifts of snow that stuck around through a cool spring. In 2011, the lake didn't stop rising until Aug. 1, topping out at 6,228.42 feet in what was its sixth most impressive rise in over a century.

Not this year.

A sub-par winter ended with an April 1 snowpack at only a little more than half of where it usually is for that time of year. The snow's been melting since, and "there's very little left," Blanchard said.

When winters are dry, Lake Tahoe reaches its maximum level early in the year. In 1992, it topped out May 17 at 6,221.87 feet. During particularly wet years, rising doesn't stop until much later. In 1965, it didn't stop rising until Aug. 17 at 6,228.87 feet.

How much the lake drops over the course of the summer will be determined by weather conditions, but the lake will probably go down 2 feet or so, still staying roughly 2 feet above its natural rim.

When full to the maximum legal limit, 6 feet of water above the rim is stored by the dam at Tahoe City, Calif., for downstream use by Reno-Sparks and Nevada agriculture.

That means there is plenty of water for municipal use, said Bill Hauck, water supply coordinator of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. The area's primary water purveyor serves about 93,000 homes and businesses across the greater Reno-Sparks area.

"Our water supply is in really good shape," Hauck said. "We should have full river flows throughout the year and into next year."

Tahoe and Boca reservoirs combined store the bulk of water that flows down the Truckee River for local use. They are still at about 75 percent of capacity because of the hefty winter a year ago.

"It's not anything like last year," Hauck said of current conditions. "The snowpack and runoff are pretty meager compared to last year, but those reservoirs really save our bacon."

 

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