The snow pack for the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe is below normal for the end of December– again. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported the Truckee River basin snowpack at 67% and the Lake Tahoe snowpack at 44% of “normal”. December and January are usually the heavy lifters when it comes to providing the bulk of the moisture collected in the Sierra Nevada. What the rest of the winter has in store for us remains an unknown.
Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Minnesota reported December 4, 2014 that the current California Drought is the worst in 1,200 years (at least). The scientists analyzed growth rings on Blue Oaks growing in California to reach that conclusion and implicate human-caused climate change as the reason. While droughts have always occurred, the current one is worse because of both increased temperature as well as decreased precipitation.
An icy Truckee River flows into Pyramid Lake on New Years Day 2015. Pyramid Lake levels have fallen dramatically since 2000.
Forbes published yesterday an article “No doubt it’s a climate-change drought, scientists say” quoting Jonathan Overpeck with the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona saying, “Of course everyone knows California’s drought has been for three years, rain so far has been helpful, there’s a snowpack in the Sierra Nevada’s that is about 50 percent of normal thanks to recent precipitation, but that hasn’t stopped the drought. The drought is still going to be the story at the end of the year, I think.” He went on to say, ““To frame the drought we should be mentioning that much of the southwest and west has been in drought now for nearly 15 years, since 1999…”
While many in Nevada (and California) are hopeful that this year will see a turn-around and we’ll see above normal winter snows by the 1st of April, the last 15 years should give us pause for expecting that the drought will simply end and everything will return to “normal” in the long-run. Climate change is the new dragon in the room.
December 30, 2014 Drought Monitor Map
Drought relief for Nevada and California is not in the cards according to the Climate Prediction Center at least through December.
“…the Pacific Northwest, and northern and central sections of California and Nevada, and much of western Utah are predicted to have elevated odds of below-median precipitation during the OND (October-November-December 2014) period…”
NOAA’s National Climate Prediction Center shows the drought “persisting or intensifying over California and Nevada through the end of 2014.
The description above seem mild considering the map that accompanies the explanation. If the winter of 2014-15 turns out to be as dry as 2013-14, our lakes and rivers will be severely impacted again as human uses will take a larger share of the available water leaving little for instream flows. Continued dropping of water levels at Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe and reservoirs is expected.
Will the Climate Prediction Center prognostication actually happen? Or will the weak El Niño surprise us with something big as winter approaches. It has happened before, but we are going to need more than one or even two excellent water years to make up for the losses we’ve seen in western Nevada over the past 14 years.
We in the west find ourselves in a long-term drought of 14 year duration and a warming climate. Gambling that we’ll be bailed out of our excessive water use by a heavy snow year may not turn out to be a good strategy.
The Truckee River does not have enough water to meet water rights in the Truckee Meadows. Area ditches like the Highland Ditch shown here have effectively been dry now for more than 6 weeks. TMWA has had to release stored water from its reservoirs to supply its customers.
Insightful research led Bruce Bledsoe’s career as a journalist and opinion page editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal. In 2001 Bruce Bledsoe won “Editorial of the Year” with his piece: “Private briefings affront to public.” Retiring from the newspaper business didn’t stop his desire to research interesting topics or write about them. Let’s just say that the Truckee River stands out as interesting being one of the most fought over rivers in the nation. Bruce has taken up the challenge to fill in the gaps in all of our knowledge of our iconic river with an entire series on the Truckee River — covering topics from atmospheric storms to zeroing in on where the diminished and diminishing “flood project” is going.
Bruce has generously provided to the Yacht Club some of his most recent insightful articles on the Truckee River, but many more are soon to be available on his website. We’ll let you know when that happens – right here. In the meantime, enjoy these 14 copyrighted articles found in our resources page. We’ve put the first 6 articles online already and will add others over the next couple of months. Check back with us to learn about not only the founding mothers of the “Yacht Club”, but how the Club influenced the flood project.
John Champion Park in DownTown Reno
Bruce writes about Boise’s restoration of its much maligned and neglected namesake river and how that led to the town’s green belt success story. And what about those “flood walls” you see (too often)? Who thought that up? Just what were the “Vista Reefs” that the Army Corps of Engineers engineered away? And is it possible to protect communities from flooding caused by encroachment on river floodplains and wetlands when private property rights advocates say “anything goes”? Bruce answers these questions – and plenty more – to help you and me understand how we got to where we are today and visualize a way forward. Thanks, Bruce!
[Click on “Resources” and find the articles you’re interested in. If the particular article link isn’t active, check back as we are adding them a little at a time.]
With apologies to Jimmy Buffett, it appears that some Renoites have few qualms about watering during hot afternoons. Not a good idea now with Truckee River flows soon to reach pitifully small levels. But it isn’t a good idea ever. Why?
Never mind that the local water purveyor, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA), says to “Shut your sprinklers off between noon and 6 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day”. A better reason to water early in the morning (4 am – 11 am) is because it is cheaper and better for your lawn, too. Watering in the afternoon costs you money because you’re wasting at least 20-30 percent of the water coming out of your sprinklers. During our warm and frequently windy afternoons a significant portion of your irrigation water goes directly into the air or gets blown off course onto sidewalks and driveways. Many sprinkler systems already have way too much pressure and spray out fine mists of water that’s even more susceptible to immediate evaporation into the air. [Click here for some tips on watering lawns.]
So keep the Truckee River flowing through town this summer – and next – by using less water, using it efficiently (no leaks or broken irrigation sprayers or floods down the gutter), and not watering in the afternoon. You’ll save a little money, and the river and all its critters will thank you. Really.
Watering on a hot and windy afternoon wastes 30% of the water
Today the RGJ’s environmental reporter Jeff Delong reported on the successful spawning of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in the lower Truckee River in 76 years. The fish dug spawning beds and reproduced in the Truckee River between the mouth of the river and Marble Bluff Dam.
Truckee River flows into Pyramid Lake in the summer of 2013
The article tells the story of how we lost this valuable resource largely to the construction of the Derby Dam on the river which diverts a significant flow of the river to the Newlands Irrigation Project.
We can only hope that the river and the fish can now thrive once again in the 21st century.
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout mount at Sutcliff