On December 1 Lake Tahoe’s elevation was 6,221.47 feet. Today, the last day of 2015 Lake Tahoe stands 0.13 feet higher at 6,221.60 – still 1.4 feet below its rim (16.8 inches). The latest forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for Lake Tahoe indicates that it will rise above its rim allowing water to flow into the Truckee River at Tahoe City. Lake Tahoe has been below its rim since October 17, 2014. Previously, the Lake dropped below its rim in 2009.
Predicted runoff for the Truckee River Basin for 2016. The black line represents the “median” projected runoff.
The NRCS predicts that the Truckee River will flow at 98 percent of average for the forecast season. The Reno-Gazette Journal today reported that “[t]he forecast combines snowpack data with historical records to predict how much water people can expect to flow into Lake Tahoe and the region’s river.”
While there is more optimism about an average, or even above average, snowpack this year, where we will end up on April 1 is still unknown. We all hope that winter will continue to produce above average snow and rain.
Common Goldeneye on the Truckee near Idlewild Park
More snow and rain could be on the way after Dec 10 according to the US Weather Service. Could this be the beginning of a winter that can make a real dent in the drought? We hope so. The forecast is for warm conditions ahead of the storm. Monday through Wednesday are forecast to have highs close to 60ºF, but cooling into the 40ºs as the storm approaches on Thursday.
Seven day NOAA Forecast from 12/6/2015
(See the National Weather Service 7 Day forecast map on their Facebook page here.)
Right now, Lake Tahoe is nearly 18″ below its rim, although the Lake did get a very slight bump from the storm on December 3 and there was more precipitation in the mountains, too. Recently, the Lake has moved slightly higher, but Pyramid Lake is continuing to drop especially since water diversions to the Lahontan Reservoir are diverting more than half the flow of the Truckee River at Derby Dam. Upstream reservoirs on the Truckee River hold just a fraction of their capacity. So, there is a large deficit that needs to be overcome to produce drought busting river runoff this spring. Whether this storm is the beginning of that hoped for big snowpack and runoff, we’ll not know until the final surveys are done in the spring.
The chart below shows where we stand as of this weekend with water storage. One of the significant facts is that Lake Tahoe is a negative 25 percent. Since it is below its rim, it must receive 180,000 acre-feet of water just to be at its rim so that water can once again begin to flow from Lake Tahoe into the Truckee River at “Fanny Bridge”. The next largest reservoir, Stampede, is at 12 percent followed by Boca at 15 percent. We will revisit this chart again to see how things are changing as the winter progresses.
Here is the latest graphic of Lake Tahoe’s elevation change during the past week. Note that the bumps in elevation and the flattening afterward in a short period of time are generally caused by the increase in elevation caused by winds blowing on the surface of the Lake and pushing the elevation of the Lake higher at the measuring station.
As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) Plan looks backward not forward by ignoring climate change. Ron Foster wrote a “One View” column in the Reno-Gazette Journal today pointing out the very same thing. He writes:
“… Inclusion of information on climate change is omitted. TMWA states that “Changes in management of any restriction to implementation of water resources due to climate change are not warranted at this time.” Since the plan doesn’t really address climate change, how can we conclude that changes aren’t warranted? … “
Indeed. It does not serve the public interest or the long-term health of the Truckee River to ignore the temperature increases that will affect both water supply and water demand over the next twenty years. What is the purpose of a 20 year Plan if not to plan for scenarios that are very likely to occur – like warming temperatures and changes in the amount and timing of runoff, for example? Mr. Foster concludes his column this way:
“… The effects of climate change are already being felt in our region; over the next twenty years they will likely worsen. The TMWA plan should recognize this potential and recommend changes in public policy to meet it.”
We agree. You can read Mr. Foster’s “One View” column here.
The Truckee River supports fish and wildlife as it makes its way through the mountains and desert to Pyramid Lake.
The “Notice of Implementation of Truckee River Operating Agreement” was filed in US District Court in Nevada today – December 1, 2015 – declaring that “all of the conditions set forth (in the agreement) have been satisfied…”. The 6 parties to TROA are the US Department of Interior, US Department of Justice, States of California and Nevada, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and Truckee Meadows Water Authority. The signed document is here.
Rob Scanland with Great Basin Land and Water, whose organization helped acquire water rights for the Truckee River for water quality and in-stream flows, saw the implementation as an early Christmas present saying, “[t]he water management of the Truckee River has finally transitioned into the 21st century.”
The agreement culminates a two and a half decade process between the entities to negotiate how to provide drought storage on the Truckee River, provide for spawning flows for endangered and threatened fish species, divide the water between California and Nevada, settle lawsuits by various parties, fulfill the Federal Government’s trust obligation to indigenous tribes, and numerous other technical and procedural issues related to river flows at Floriston as well as when and how to move stored water into the river. The Federal Water Master, Chad Blanchard, is responsible to carry out TROA now day-to-day. The TROA was made possible by a 1990 law, Public Law 101-618: The ‘Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act’, sponsored by Senator Harry Reid that established the detailed framework for the negotiations. (See below for the outlined purposes of the law that has now settled issues on the Truckee River between the 6 signatories.) You can read the TROA on the website maintained by the Water Master for the Truckee River here (troa.net then click on “documents”).
Lake Tahoe is well below its rim in this recent photograph and no water can enter the Truckee River. In “normal” times this spot in Lake Tahoe would be under 3-6 feet of water and Lake Tahoe water would flow into the Truckee River.
Public Law 101-618 (extract)
SEC. 201. SHORT TITLE.
This title may be cited as the ‘Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act’.
SEC. 202. PURPOSES.
The purposes of this title shall be to–
(a) provide for the equitable apportionment of the waters of the Truckee River, Carson River, and Lake Tahoe between the State of California and the State of Nevada;
(b) authorize modifications to the purposes and operation of certain Federal Reclamation project facilities to provide benefits to fish and wildlife, municipal, industrial, and irrigation users, and recreation;
(c) authorize acquisition of water rights for fish and wildlife;
(d) encourage settlement of litigation and claims;
(e) fulfill Federal trust obligations toward Indian tribes;
(f) fulfill the goals of the Endangered Species Act by promoting the enhancement and recovery of the Pyramid Lake fishery; and
(g) protect significant wetlands from further degradation and enhance the habitat of many species of wildlife which depend on those wetlands, and for other purposes.
Pyramid Lake located in Washoe County just 30 minutes from Reno is one of the last remaining desert terminal lakes in the world and home to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. The lake is famous for its Lahontan Cutthroat Trout that grow to 20 or more pounds and the Cui ui fish found only in Pyramid Lake and spawn in the lower Truckee River. Diversions from the Truckee River to the “Newlands Project” have damaged Pyramid Lake and its fishery.