TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The unseasonably cold weather coupled with winter's heavy snowpack could turn summer into a feast or famine for local rafting companies, water officials said.A strong winter — which reared its head again Saturday with a 4- to 8-inch snow storm across the region — has led to an unusually high snowpack. That, combined with cold spring temperatures, has created abundant flows along the Truckee River from Truckee to Reno, said Chad Blanchard, chief deputy water master for the Truckee River Operating Agreement organization in Reno.However, while the formidable Sierra snowpack has brought good news to California and Northern Nevada farmers and communities that have endured years of drought, flows along the river from Tahoe City to Truckee — the stretch enjoyed during the summer by enthusiastic rafters and kayakers — have not increased, Blanchard said, which could negatively impact rafting businesses who depend on Lake Tahoe water releases via the Tahoe City dam to create necessary water flows for rafting locals and tourists.“This (year's run-off peak) could be one of the latest ever,” Blanchard said. “The high snow has not melted and most of it is still there.”Previously, Blanchard said 2010 saw the latest runoff peak in the past 40 years.Mike Miltner, owner of Tahoe White Water Tours, out of Tahoe City, said his company has already been running tours for the past two weeks under excellent conditions along the Carson and American rivers.“This season will be awesome, we'll have the Carson River right on through the end July,” said Miltner, meaning roughly an extra month of rafting down the Carson is expected.However, while a strong whitewater rafting season appears certain, Miltner empathized with local raft rental companies in Tahoe City that rely on the Tahoe City-Truckee stretch.Aaron Rudnick, owner of Truckee River Raft Co., of Tahoe City, confirmed Miltner's observation in a Tuesday interview. He described the news as a devastating impact for his company that solely rents rafts from Tahoe City to Truckee.“It's just a really hard blow,” Rudnick said. “(The season) is painting a pretty grim picture.”Currently, Rudnick said he is having his employees do odd jobs around his Tahoe City office, but said if the weather continues its current trend, it will spell hard times for his 80-plus summer employees.Most notably, Rudnick said, it appears floating for the July 4 weekend — when the majority of revenues for the business are generated — will again not be possible.Due to snowfall, Blanchard said water flow from Truckee into Reno hasn't fallen below 500 cubic feet per second — the minimum water level required to open Tahoe reservoirs to flow into the Truckee River. This is referred to as the Floriston Rate — a long-standing federal rule means that as long as the flow is high through Floriston in the Truckee River, the U.S. District Court Water Masters Office can't release extra water from Lake Tahoe.However there is a silver lining. Snow melt and current precipitation will benefit the region in carry over water supplies for next year, Blanchard said, as well as for other regional waterbodies.“At this point we will finally have carry over storage which we have not had for four years,” he said. “The issue is that the snow melt is more than enough to meet that flow, and we are expected to fill Boca and Stampede reservoirs.”Last year, a similar situation prevented the dam from being released in time for Fourth of July weekend 2010. Left with few options to make up for lost revenue, Rudnick ended up renting out the company's parking lot for extra paid parking.
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