Spring arrives after a so-so winter for western Nevada

Truckee River in Feb. 2016 from John Champion Park bridge in Reno.

In western Nevada and the Sierra to the east of the crest, It did snow; it did rain; there were some cold nights; the snowpack was above average; the snowpack was below average; now with spring here and March two-thirds history, how the snowpack will finish is “up-in-the-air”.

The Truckee River is flowing much more than last year at this time, but with Lake Tahoe still below its rim, it is unlikely that this will be a banner year for Truckee River flows. A very dry February threw cold water on hopes for a double or triple snowpack year. Could that change?  It will depend on whether it rains and snows a lot more into the spring.  So far, most of the storms in March have been much bigger on the west side of the Sierra than on the east, but have helped restore some of the lost Truckee River watershed’s snowpack after a dry February.

As of today, Lake Tahoe’s elevation stands at 6,222.72 and rising as snow melt kicks in. That’s a big gain from Dec. 9, 2015 when the Lake’s elevation was 6,221.37. Tahoe’s rise of 1.35 feet over the winter represents 54 billion gallons of water. That 54 billion gallons, however, merely fills a huge water deficit and isn’t water that represents flow to the Truckee River; and Tahoe needs another 11 billion gallons to repay the deficit so that water can once again reach the Truckee River at Tahoe City.

Truckee River downtown

Truckee River downtown

Pyramid Lake, however, has continued to fall in elevation dropping more than a foot since October 1, 2015 to the last measurement on March 1, 2016.  Continual Truckee River diversions to Lahontan Reservoir are a significant factor in the loss of water for Pyramid Lake, the natural outflow for the Truckee River.

According to USA Today, “[t]he U.S. saw its warmest winter on record – a whopping 4.6 degrees above average.”

Reuters reports, “The rate of carbon emissions is higher than at any time in fossil records stretching back 66 million years to the age of the dinosaurs, according to a study on Monday that sounds an alarm about risks to nature from man-made global warming.”

Warmer temperatures mean more evaporation and more water use to grow crops and water lawns.  More carbon in the atmosphere means ever more warming.

For the moment, however, we see a flowing Truckee River and will still hope for a good spring runoff, fish spawning from Pyramid Lake into the Truckee, and water for kayacking and swimming in the river during the summer. It might even keep snowing into April, right?

Panorama of Truckee River Whitewater and Wingfield Parks in Downtown Reno

Panorama of Truckee River Whitewater and Wingfield Parks in Downtown Reno



This entry was posted in Keep it flowing on by .

About Dennis Ghiglieri

My concern for the Truckee River grew over the years. It started with picking up trash and supporting better water quality. I helped create the "living river"plan with other citizens on the Community Flood Coalition; a plan to reduce flood impacts to infrastructure through river restoration and protection of the floodplain. I understand how critical the Truckee River is to the environment – and economy – of our entire region. I'm hoping that through these pages we can all understand our connection to the Truckee River and why we need to protect it.