The “atmospheric river” resulted in rain throughout the central Sierra and the Reno area for most of Saturday, Dec 10, 2016. Rain was heavy in the mountains with snow confined to higher elevations. Consequently, runoff from the storm quickly entered the Truckee River below Lake Tahoe and sent flows approaching 5,000 cubic-feet-per-second through Reno and Sparks. That flow rate amounts to 2.2 million gallons of water per hour. The Truckee River hasn’t seen this rate of flow since 2012.
Lake Tahoe as of today is just a little more than 1/2″ from its rim. Water from Lake Tahoe begins to flow into the Truckee River once its elevation reaches 6,223 feet. Lake Tahoe dropped below its rim this summer after rising above its rim in the spring, but has been mostly below its rim since October 2014. (Click graph for full size)
The National Weather Service in Reno is forecasting more rain should begin Tuesday. It could be an exciting week for the Truckee River if we get a repeat of mountain rains. High flows are important to move sediment and create new places for trees, grasses and shrubs to grow and create habitat for fish and wildlife. Floods are damaging to infrastructure built in the flood plain of the river, but flooding helps keep rivers healthy. Keeping buildings out of the floodplain and away from the river is the best approach to protecting our property and limits damage from flooding without expensive flood “control” structures – flood walls, levees, and dams.
Now that the rain has ended (hopefully, more snow and rain is on the way), the river is dropping rapidly. At 10 pm on Sunday, Dec 11 the flow rate through Reno is less than 1,500 CFS.