IVGID GM’s corner: Tough times for Lake Tahoe
Special to the Bonanza
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — We’ve all been reading a lot lately about the challenges this four-year drought is creating for our region. For our area boaters, the drought may significantly reduce the number of boat ramps available this summer in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The lake elevation dropped below its natural rim for the first time since 2009 this past fall, and it is still about a quarter foot below the rim level of 6,223 feet of elevation with very little snow melt anticipated this spring.
Since 1900, the record for lowest lake level is in 1992, when the level dropped to 6220.26 feet. If you take a look at this chart prepared by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, via the U.S. Geological Survey — tmwa.com/lake_level — you can see that a lake level below 6,223 feet has been a fairly rare occurrence over the past 115 years.
Not surprisingly, since the current lake level is such a rarity, many of the boat ramps in our region were not designed to deal with water depths below the natural rim. It is anticipated that a number of boat launches, including Sand Harbor, may not be able to open this summer.
IVGID’s boat ramp, originally built over 40 years ago, has been modified a number of times over the years to better deal with drought conditions. A series of extensions were added to the boat ramp to lower its elevation to the maximum allowable depth of 6,219 feet. Originally, our ramp elevation was only 3 inches below 6,223 feet.
While we are currently able to service most boats at the current water level, we are very concerned about what the water level will be by the middle of the summer.
IVGID staff has been working closely with our local boating community to look at alternative ways to launch boats if the lake level continues its drop.
The most obvious solution would be extending the ramp, as was done several years ago. Unfortunately, the lake bed elevation remains flat for approximately 150 feet at the end of the current ramp — making any additional extensions logistically, legally and financially infeasible.
Another alternative that has been suggested is to dredge the area surrounding the boat ramp in order to gain more water depth. TRPA has informed us that dredging is not an option. Their code does not allow for any “new” dredging to occur; it only allows for “maintenance” dredging of existing channels, which is what is occurring elsewhere in the Basin.
Even if we were able to get TRPA to authorize dredging, it would not succeed for long, given the amount of sediment loading that occurs from the two adjacent streams and the littoral movement of sands from wave action. With the southern exposure of our ramp, a dredged channel would fill back in almost immediately.
The TRPA code does allow for a temporary extension to enhance access during extreme low water. This is how Sand Harbor was able to accomplish what they did in the early 1990s low water years in which they set landing mats in the lake and then tractor trailered the boats into the lake.
The difference between our circumstance and Sand Harbor’s is the extreme length at the end of our ramp to deeper water and the ramp’s southern exposure.
With 150 feet of flat lake bottom from the end of our ramp to deeper water, it would be a very long run for a tractor and trailer to drive out in the lake.
There are also many issues associated with wave action and a temporary extension. The landing mats will want to move and shift during large summer wave events. Additionally, the wave action will cause sand fouling of the landing mats which will make launching challenging.
These are all issues TRPA would want us to have resolved in order for them to approve an application, along with whether or not we could temporarily extend our ramp beyond the current maximum allowable length of 75 feet.
What I can assure you is that we will continue to work with our boating partners and do everything we can to see if there is a way to defy Mother Nature and keep our boat ramp open for the entire season.
We’ve also been working closely with our Board Chair and Trustees to examine the possibility of providing additional services at the ramp including expanded hours of operation, boat valet services, kayak and paddleboard storage improvements.
In addition, a new restroom facility will be opening shortly at Ski Beach (will include a foot washer and a dog water fountain), and we will be enhancing the safety of our boat ramp putting new taller curbs in place this spring.
“GM’s Corner” is a twice-monthly column from Incline Village General Improvement Distinct General Manager Steve Pinkerton, who will discuss issues and offer updates regarding various district matters.