Tahoe water low despite spectacular flower bloom

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Friday, July 17, 2015
Tahoe water low despite spectacular flower bloom
While millions of Californians worry about how long our drought may last, some important clues are literally floating above us. Trouble is, we haven't been able to decode them yet.

LAKE TAHOE (KGO) -- Bay Area tourists heading for Lake Tahoe are facing some good and bad news. Recent summer rain has created a fabulous flower show, but the lake itself may be heading into record low territory this year. Lake Tahoe still has its stunning blue color, but all around the basin, mountains that are usually covered with snow this time of year are bare.

That means there is little snow to provide run off into the lake. The water level is below the natural rim of the lake, so no water is flowing into the Truckee River.

Along the shore, piers meant for boats are sticking out over mud and sand where there used to be water. Swimmers have to walk a long way through shallow water before the lake is even waist high.

The Tahoe area actually got twice the normal amount of rain in the month of May and another heavy dose of showers in the last couple of weeks.

But Jonathan Cook-Fisher with the U.S. Forest Service says that was not enough to lift fire restrictions at camp grounds. "As much as we've had late rains or early summer rains, it still doesn't replace that vital Sierra snowpack."

Cook-Fisher says the late rain did set the stage for one popular tourist attraction. "We're really seeing a stellar display of wildflowers this year," he said. He says the U.S. Forest Service is getting reports of unusually abundant flowers all over the Tahoe basin.

One place flowers are good this year is at the scene of the massive Angora fire that burned more than 3,000 acres south of Tahoe eight years ago. The fire took out thousands of trees, but opened up the forest floor to sunlight. Cook-Fisher says restoration efforts by public and private organizations are paying off now with a landscape that's beginning to return to the way nature intended.

For those interested in seeing wildflowers, Cook-Fisher says get up to Tahoe immediately. The flowers are currently at their peak.

Despite drought conditions, Tahoe tourism officials are projecting the number of summer visitors will be up as much as 20 percent more than last year.

There is plenty to do, but one thing that is not on the agenda is rafting on the Truckee River. For the second year in a row, there is not enough water.

The river's fish are also in trouble. The water is low, it's much warmer than usual and that's killing a lot of trout. Some fishermen are urging others not to fish the river, so the trout that do survive will be able to reproduce for next year.

Chris Healy with the Nevada Department of Wildlife says, "We are going to be able to manage this fishery back into success, but it's going to take a while. It is going to take some patience and most of all it is going to take some water."

Resources for finding wildflowers around Lake Tahoe:

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Lake Tahoe wildflower walkabouts

Tahoe Vacation Guide

To learn how much water your city is required to cut back, click here. For water rebate information from Bay Area water suppliers, click here. And click here for tips on how to conserve water. To learn more about how to report water wasters #WhereYouLive, click here.

For full coverage on the drought, click here.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney