Here in Reno, we woke up yesterday morning to dark gray skies and the patter of raindrops. Like any sane person living in a desert during a drought, I grabbed a raincoat and made a beeline for the river, determined to enjoy a good drenching. And, boy, I was not disappointed. My raincoat leaks, the branches and plant leaves along the trail were soaked and hanging low, water was dropping from the sky in a steady drizzle, and the puddles were rising. I thought I might run into a frog or two on my walk, but instead I only found birds, water-striders and wet, happy plants.
We’ve had a number of rainstorms in the past few weeks, which have been pretty enjoyable and have helped to ease the drought a little. After an above-average May for precipitation in the Lake Tahoe basin, yesterday’s storm brought Lake Tahoe’s water level back up to lake’s natural rim (6223 feet elevation) for the first time since last October, meaning that water can theoretically start spilling into the Truckee River again, depending on whether the watermaster plans to save it or release it. Below is a graph from USGS showing lake level since last October. The 3.0 line marks the lake’s natural rim, 6223 feet. (We’re there!):
According to NRCS data, as of June 1st, our other reservoirs (Stampede, Boca, Prosser, Donner and Independence Lake) were at 23% of capacity. This time last year, they were 40% full. Our mountain snowpack, which acts as sort of a high-elevation natural reservoir and slowly releases snowmelt to the watershed, was pretty dismal this year. Below is a graph from NRCS that shows snowpack in the Truckee River basin for the last four years. The black line is the data from this past winter, 2015; compare that with the red line which shows the median (mid-point in the data) for what snowpack has been in the past:
So, the rains are helping to refill our lakes and reservoirs a little, and definitely helping our gardens, but the low snowpack and high summer temperatures still to come mean that the drought is likely to continue for some time. Drought can be hard on fish, trees and many other Truckee River species. This week’s fishing report from the RGJ says:
“The conditions on the Truckee River are such that it is probably time to leave it alone and see if the fish have any chance at all of surviving the summer. As the water gets lower and warmer it will eventually get to the point where the fish can’t survive the conditions. It may be coming sooner than later, especially in the lower elevations around Reno.”
This summer will be an important time to keep an eye out for wildlife. If you’re down by the river and see something interesting, please submit an observation to Truckee River Guide!