Lake Tahoe Water Level Rises Dramatically

Lake Tahoe overlooking Emerald Bay. (Chris Cocoles)

Every summer, and I mean EVERY summer, my family would head to Lake Tahoe (or Reno, but we’d always make a cameo appearance at Tahoe even if we weren’t staying there), so while the need to travel elsewhere has prevented me from going to Tahoe frequently now as an old guy after going frequently as a young guy, it always have a special place in my heart.

And after a wet and snowy winter, it’s not surprising that the runoff means more water in the massive alpine lake straddling both California and Nevada. But it’s clear that the recent numbers are pretty amazing.

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s SF Gate website with more:

To further understand the significance of a four-inch gain in a week consider that during the spring snow melt season at the height of the California drought in 2015, the lake rose two and a half inches across several months. 

With all this water, the lake is now only three inches from filling — and will likely reach full capacity in mid-July, Blanchard says.

If it fills it will be for the first time in 11 years, and the total amount it will have risen across the water-year between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30 will be record-breaking.  …

Lake Tahoe’s natural rim is at 6,223 feet above sea level. The lake can store an additional 6.1 feet in its reservoir and climbs up to 6,229.1 feet at full capacity, its legal maximum limit. The only outlet, a dam at Tahoe City, regulates the upper 6.1 feet above the low water mark, and this winter water is being released into the Truckee River as billions of gallons flow into the lake.

As of Friday morning, the lake was at 6,228.84 feet, and Blanchard says they are releasing 800 cubic feet per second this week to prevent flooding. Releases in June have reached as high as 1,600 cubic feet per second.

The lake still needs some 30,000 acre feet of water to fill and a lot more than that will be dumping into Tahoe in coming months.

I can picture it now as I did so many times in the past: a filled-to-the-brim azure blue lake surrounded by majestic mountains … and throngs of obnoxious tourists from the Bay Area creating a traffic-snarled mess. Oh, the memories!