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12 May 2021
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Spring in Tahoe
The Lake is Shrinking in North Lake Tahoe

Last week I took my first kayak of the year along the West Shore between Hurricane Bay and Blackwood Creek. I quickly came to the realization that Lake Tahoe had dropped a lot since my last trip in the fall. Where last fall I paddled carefully six inches above a pile of rocks, those rocks are now a good 1.5 feet out of the water. All along the west shore piles of rocks popping out of the water and much bigger beaches can be seen. And then there is Blackwood Creek.

Last summer, you could kayak several hundred yards up Blackwood Creek, almost making it to the Highway 89 bridge. Now you can’t enter the creek, as just a narrow channel of shallow water enters the lake. And a big comma shaped sand bar has appeared reaching out from the shore at the edge of the creek about 30 feet.

As of May 5th, the level of Lake Tahoe sits at 6225 feet. It has remained about the same the last ten days as all that snowmelt coming in via creeks like Blackwood and Ward is balanced by evaporation and water running out of the Truckee River. Last year on this day the lake level was 6227 feet. While in many reservoirs in the west a two foot drop is nothing, given the volume of water in Lake Tahoe that is a whole lotta water.

The natural rim of Lake Tahoe, when water no longer enters the Truckee River is 6223 feet. The maximum allowed height of the lake is 6229 feet. Hopefully we will make it into next winter without dipping below the natural rim.

The answer to why the lake dropped two feet in the last year can be answered by the fact that I’m sitting on my lawn without a bit of snow around in the first week of May.  It was a well below average year for precipitation.

What does a dropping lake mean for visitors and residents of Lake Tahoe? The good news is: not a lot. The lake is still a pretty as ever, it’s still easy to access, and your activities will not for the most part be curtailed. It does mean you will have to carry that kayak or paddle board further to get to the water. And it means that if you are in a motorboat you best be more careful about how deep the water is NOW. That place you propelled right through last year may catch your propeller this year. Oh, and the beaches. They will be bigger giving you more space for your towel.

*A quick grumpy local note: Every time I look at facts and figures about Tahoe the statement is made about how many creeks and streams run into Lake Tahoe, “but there is only one outlet, the Truckee River.” This statement is made like it is something unusual about Tahoe, but I ask: Are you aware of any lake in the world that has more than one outlet? Water goes to the lowest point, and there is usually only one of those per lake.