Western drought: Conservation still key as Tahoe-Truckee heads into summer
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — Despite the Tahoe/Truckee region having a strong winter this season, the greater state of California is still in a drought, and area officials are urging continued conservation as warmer months approach.
On Sunday, Lake Tahoe’s water level hit its natural rim of 6,223 feet, the first time since June 2015, thanks to a winter season that saw more than 500 inches of snow in upper-elevation areas in the Sierra Nevada.
Originally, the lake dipped below its rim Oct. 15, 2014, in response to the drought.
“Even with a much better winter, the state as a whole has not recovered from four straight drought years,” said Kurt Althof, grants and community information administrator for the Tahoe City Public Utility District. “We at the TCPUD, in addition to the state, urge residents and visitors to continue to be mindful of their water use.”
Both the North Tahoe and Truckee Donner public utility districts are pushing the same conservation message, especially given that the state recently extended emergency drought regulations through October 2016.
As part of the readoption, the State Water Resources Control Board will hear possible regulation modifications at an April 20 workshop. For the latest restrictions, check with your water purveyor.
“As a California water purveyor, the district and our residents have to follow the mandates the state puts in place,” said Pam Emmerich, NTPUD district technology and public information administrator.
Meanwhile, neighboring Nevada has not issued mandatory restrictions, said Joe Pomroy, director of Public Works for Incline Village General Improvement District. However, IVGID encourages water conservation at all times.
“Water conservation is critical in times of drought, but also needed in times of plenty because water is a precious limited resource,” according to the district.
Echoing that sentiment is TDPUD, said Steven Poncelet, district public information and conservation manager: “The Truckee Donner PUD’s message from the beginning has been that water is a precious resource, and we should do everything we can to conserve water during and after a drought,”
Traditionally, the summer months — more specifically, July and August — are when regional PUDs see a spike in water consumption.
Key drivers include outdoor irrigation, weather patterns and an increase in population due to second-home owners being in town along with more visitors, according to officials.
IVGID Public Works Department reports that nearly 70 percent of annual water use for Incline and Crystal Bay is for irrigation.
“It is very important that everyone who lives in, owns a second home or is visiting North Tahoe or California, in general, (does) their part in curbing water use,” Althof said. “ … We are all in this together, and it is imperative that everyone chip in to help maintain water sustainability for our region and the state.”
Effective as of March 1, TCPUD must reduce water consumption by 17 percent from its 2013 levels, while TDPUD’s conservation target is 25 percent, as dictated by the state water board.
NTPUD, meanwhile, has a 28 percent target, except for the months of July, August and September, when it’s slightly reduced to 25 percent, Emmerich said.
Those conservation targets may change following the April 20 workshop, Althof said.
“We anticipate this summer to be even more challenging to meet conservation numbers because there is a concern that people think we are out of the drought, as they skied all winter and they are watching the lake rise, but the real truth is there isn’t enough snowpack to bring us out of the current drought,” Emmerich said.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, at least 55.25 percent of California is in “extreme drought” (including the greater Tahoe-Truckee area), and 31.68 percent is in “exceptional drought” as of April 5.
“The extended drought and unprecedented conservation mandates have taught us that water conservation will likely be a normal way of life moving forward for all Californians,” Althof said.