RENO, Nev. (AP) — The drought-busting snow and rain in the mountains around Lake Tahoe have pushed the lake to its highest level in more than a decade.
After suffering through five consecutive years of drought, hydrologists say the alpine lake atop the Sierra Nevada now has enough water to fill downstream reservoirs and meet the Reno-area’s needs for at least two years.
“We are basically going from one extreme to the other in two years,” said Bill Hauck, senior hydrologist for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.
Scientists are scheduled to release the results of the latest Sierra snowpack surveys on Wednesday. As of Feb. 1, the Tahoe Basin snowpack already was 233 percent of normal.
Hauck told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/gl6tppt) it’s a “foregone conclusion” the lake reach its storage limit level in the weeks ahead for the first time since 2006.
“We have significantly more water forecast to come in than we have room for,” said Chad Blanchard, the federal water master in Reno who started releasing water last week at the dam in Tahoe City, California into the Truckee River toward downstream reservoirs southwest of Reno, Pyramid Lake and rural irrigation canals to the east.
“After Tahoe fills it is good for three years,” he said. “We could have unprecedented dry (weather) and it still ends up being two years.”
The dam built between 1909 and 1913 allows for the storage of approximately 6 feet of water above the lake’s natural rim.
That may not sound like much but Tahoe’s surface covers 191 square miles — an area three times larger than the District of Columbia. If emptied, its waters would cover the entire state of California 14 inches deep.
Most ski resorts around Lake Tahoe have received record snow since Jan. 1. Mount Rose ski resort southwest of Reno received another 6 feet of snow a week ago to bring to its season-record total to 54 feet.
Snowpack totals and water years run on a seasonal, fiscal-like calendar from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Reno already has surpassed its wettest water season on record with half the calendar in the balance.
Since Oct. 1, Reno-Tahoe International Airport has recorded 12.74 inches of precipitation, breaking the old mark of 12.72 from Oct. 1, 1982 to Sept. 30, 1983.
The weather service has records in Reno dating to 1888. Annual rainfall in the city linking the Sierra’s eastern front to the high desert to the east averages about 7.4 inches.
Tahoe City — located on the lake’s northwest shore about 20 miles south of U.S. Interstate 80 — has seen 56.38 inches of precipitation in the form of rain or snow water equivalent since Oct. 1. That’s 10 inches more than the previous record set in 1969.