How low will it go? Reservoirs are dropping fast after slow winter
When Bill Carollo walked from the dirt embankment toward the water line at Prosser Reservoir, he wasn’t expecting to walk so far.
But the water line this year is a little farther from the shore than it usually is.
Actually, it’s a lot farther.
“I was out at Prosser (Reservoir) today looking around and it is lower than it was after the fall release,” said Carollo. “I was talking to my friend today who was out at Boca (Reservoir) and he said the water level there is even below the boat ramp. But I guess Stampede (Reservoir) is OK.”
Carollo still plans to go trolling at Prosser Reservoir when his son comes home from college today, but he probably won’t head back to the beaver ponds on Alder Creek.
“Usually it’s rippin’ right through Alder Creek by Fjord and it’s barely running now. It looks like summer,” said Carollo. “If you’re going to fish it, you better fish it now.”
Based on reservoir storage and a bleak runoff forecast, an unusually dry winter is going to turn into an unusually dry summer this year, say officials with the state Department of Water Resources.
Prosser Reservoir currently holds just over a third of its water capacity with approximately 10,400 acre feet of water, which is 73 percent of the historical average for this time of year.
Storage at Boca Reservoir is less than half of the historical average. Currently it’s filled to about 25 percent of capacity, said Pierre Stephens, a water forecaster with the state.
“The boat ramps are well out of the water at Boca and Prosser Reservoir and we don’t expect that to change,” said Diane Minutilli, a public affairs technician with the Truckee Ranger District of the U.S Forest Service. “Water reservoir levels do have an impact on the number of people who use (our) campgrounds.”
But some of the other reservoirs are doing a little better.
Storage at Stampede Reservoir and Lake Tahoe is above average for the time of year.
“Given how dry this year has been it’s encouraging,” said Stephens of the above-average storage levels at Tahoe and Stampede, “but the runoff forecast doesn’t look good. Inflow to Tahoe is 36 percent of the average, which is the same for the Truckee area going to Farad … There isn’t a tremendous amount of snow left in Truckee. We’re going to see things drop in May and June.”
Based on the current forecast the water level at Lake Tahoe – measured Monday as 6,226.37 feet above sea level – won’t improve much, said Gary Stone, the federal water master in Reno.
“It could conceivably come up another tenth of a foot, 6,226.5 (elevation) at max,” said Stone.
Stone added that the bulk of water released down the Truckee River this summer will be from Lake Tahoe. The other reservoirs don’t have enough natural accumulation to maintain minimum fishery water flows.
“We anticipate the level of Lake Tahoe to be 8 to 10 inches above the natural rim by mid-November depending on weather conditions,” said Stone.
The natural rim, at 6,223.00 feet, is the mandatory water level that must be maintained in Lake Tahoe. At less than a foot above the rim this November, the water level will be lower than the historical average by about two feet.
The low water level won’t bode well for fishery biologists or the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe, who were hoping enough water would be available to help the Cui-ui, a federally listed endangered fish species, do a spawning run.
“A Cui-ui run is not anticipated (this year),” said Randi Thompson, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Fish and Game in Reno. “One, because the water flows are so low we can’t even run the lift at Marble Bluff … The other alternative is taking water out of Stampede (Reservoir), which would essentially dry up the Truckee River.”
Thompson said the number of Cui-ui are still very strong.
“Missing a spawning run one year is not going to impact their long-term sustainability,” she said.
Insufficient water levels for spawning aren’t the only problem for fish, said Bruce Ajari, a local fisherman and Sierra Sun fishing columnist.
“Low water is going to warm things up quite a bit and that is going to stress the fish out,” he said. “We will probably see more parasites on the bodies.”
However, because the only water source to maintain minimum flows will be Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River volume will be pretty good for fisherman, said Ajari.
For boaters, however, the water situation will cause problems for launching boats, parking and over-crowding at reservoirs with sufficient water storage.
Reports of shallow boat ramps at Tahoe and at reservoirs in Truckee will force many boaters to Donner Lake, said Charlie White, a Donner Lake business owner.
“The problem is where they park,” said White. “The Tahoe Donner and Recreation Department parking areas fill up pretty quickly.”
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