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Massive Storm Brings Lake Tahoe Water Levels Above Natural Edge


Lake Tahoe October 20. AP Photo / Scott Sonner

Heavy rain and snow fell in northern California over the weekend – so much so that water levels in Lake Tahoe returned above the natural edge.

Water levels at the Tahoe City Dam rose nearly 6 inches in 24 hours, the US Geological Survey said, and more than 24 inches of snow fell in the mountains around the Tahoe Basin. This was good news, as last week Lake Tahoe’s water levels plunged about an inch below the natural edge of the basin. When the levels drop below the rim, the lake is no longer connected to the Truckee River, its only outlet. Drought, fueled by climate change, is lowering levels more often and sooner than normal.

While the precipitation was definitely needed, it was not enough to solve Lake Tahoe’s water problems, experts say. Because the lake was only an inch below the rim, the massive storm was able to cause the water levels to rise quickly, but they are nowhere near where they should be, SFG gate reports – Lake Tahoe is considered full when water levels are about 6 feet above the natural edge.

For Lake Tahoe to be in a good position, scientists say this winter must have above average rain and snowfall, with the snowpack not melting until spring. Without it, the lake could fall below its natural edge earlier next year.

While this weekend’s storm was significant, it’s not going to do much damage in the drought that is hitting the western United States. Nevada’s Lake Mead is a major water source for California, and Bill Patzert, a retired climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, tells the Los Angeles Times that he estimates it would take 17 years of above-normal precipitation and snow accumulation to bring the depleted lake back to where it should be. “There is no quick fix to drought,” Patzert said.

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