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The flow and the float

Jeremy Morrison, Sun News Service

From whitewater to floaters, area rafting businesses are kicking into gear this week following an increase in the amount of water released into the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe.

“We opened up and sent the first boat down today,” Bob Bell of Mountain Air River Rafting, who runs the three-mile stretch of the river from Tahoe City to River Ranch, said Tuesday. Ideal rafting conditions on that popular section of river are about 300 cubic feet per second or 350 cfs; the rate Tuesday was 143 cfs.

On Sunday, Federal Water Master Garry Stone accelerated the amount of water released from Lake Tahoe. Beginning with the California Department of Fish and Game-mandated 70 cfs, the rate was increased to 108 cfs by nightfall; Wednesday morning the rate of release was up to 150 cfs.

“When we need the water we supplement the natural flow with water from [Lake] Tahoe and Boca [Reservoir],” Stone said, explaining that a flow-rate of 500 cfs – known as the Floriston Rate – must be maintained at the Nevada stateline and precipitated the increased release this week.

According to the 1935 Truckee River Agreement, and subsequent court decrees, the watermaster must keep the river flowing at a minimum of 500 cfs at a measuring point at Farad along Interstate 80.

The Floriston Rate, said Stone, was fulfilled by winter’s runoff throughout much of the spring, but now requires the release supplements. Because of the light snow season the Boca Reservoir is low on water, so much of the runoff’s supplementation will come from the lake, Stone said.

That’s just gravy for area rafters, who depend on the water release to float rafts from Tahoe City to River Ranch. Whitewater rafting businesses, which have been operating for a few weeks already on the stretch of river from Boca to Floriston, are not affected to such a degree.

According to Frank Wohlsahrt, owner of Irie Rafting and Truckee Whitewater Adventures, the release from Lake Tahoe has little bearing on his business because it only maintains the required 500 cfs, which is supplied by natural runoff until the releases.

“We can go all summer on that,” Wohlsahrt said of the mandated Floriston Rate.

While the whitewater tours can operate on the Floriston Rate, Wohlsahrt says he certainly wouldn’t mind more cfs.

“In an ideal world we’d see a flow of a 1,000 cfs all summer, but we get what we get,” he said, explaining the watermaster does not take rafting into account when figuring the release rate.

While whitewater rafting thrives regardless of the rate of release from Lake Tahoe, floaters are entirely dependent on the release.

“The outlook is looking good,” said Adrienne Christensen, manager of Truckee River Raft Company, which opened for business Wednesday.

Bell also has high hopes for the summer season.

“I’m looking forward to a real good year,” Bell said. “We should have a good season with good water flow all season.”

In sync with the fluctuation of the Floriston Rate, the rate of release from Lake Tahoe can rise and fall on a daily basis.

“We have to adjust practically daily,” Stone explained. “Hopefully we’ll get to a point where (water flow) will stabilize.”

Stone said he would like to see the release rate at the Tahoe City dam level out somewhere between 250 and 300 cfs.


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