– Amanda Ketchledge
Reno, NV- “This is the lowest level we’ve seen the lake ever. It’s sad,” said John Fuhrman, of Pasadena, California, and a regular visitor of Lake Tahoe for the past 20 years.
Water supplies are drying up and Northern Nevada’s third straight year of severe drought is starting to impact recreation. River rafting, kayaking, and paddle boarding are just some of the popular water activities in the area that could all come to an end before summer concludes.
Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River are significantly impacted by the drought with water levels reaching record lows. The Truckee River is expected to drop low enough that reserves will need to be tapped while Lake Tahoe is expected to go below its natural rim earlier than usual this season. With water levels below average, businesses are just trying to stay afloat in what seems to be an endless struggle.
“We knew we might run out of water,” said Mike Miltner, owner of Tahoe Whitewater Tours. “It looks like that might happen at the end of the month. “
Tubing down the Truckee River is a popular pastime for locals and visitors in Reno, but businesses such as Tahoe Whitewater Tours will have to lay off workers and shut down before the summer ends.
“Rafting is a little bit of a partial walking experience at the moment,” said Andrew Laughlin of Tahoe City Kayak and Paddleboard. “Paddleboards, because of the fin, are digging into the bottom of the lake so we’ve had to move our rental facility for paddleboards about a hundred yards.”
New rock and sand bars are being exposed and pose a hazard to visitors. Although the shore at Commons Beach in Tahoe City, California is covered in rock, Laughlin says business is better than ever. He says it has to do with several boat docks being closed on Lake Tahoe, leaving non-motorized recreation as the only option to beat the heat.
Eric Johnson, administrator for Nevada State Parks, says none of the state’s parks have closed this year and visitors have not declined significantly, but some boating restrictions have occurred because of the drought.
Boat launching at Lahontan Reservoir and Rye Patch have been closed since the beginning of the summer and due to low lake levels, Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe will close on July 28 for the remainder of the year.
“Cave Rock is about the only place you can launch a large boat now so it’s getting a tremendous amount of use,” said Johnson.
Visitation at Lahontan Reservoir has seen a 70 percent drop in boating activity and a 60 percent decline in camping.
“July 4 weekend there was a handful of camps out there,” said Johnson. “It’s just drying up.”
About a third of Nevada’s water supply comes from the snowmelt in spring. A heavy snowpack in the winter is needed to sustain enough water for the summer season, but that’s not the case in Northern Nevada.
According to the most recent snow survey in May 2014, Northern Nevada’s snowpack was only 34 percent of average. Many businesses and recreational users are hoping for El Niño to bring a big winter for Nevada and California.
Despite the dismal water levels, Laughlin remains optimistic.
“The lake is not going to dry up in one summer,” said Laughlin.
Low water levels aren’t stopping people from having fun. But before engaging in any water activities, experts are advising visitors to asses the water level where they intend to play and be safe.
For more information on living with drought, please visit the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension website: http://www.unce.unr.edu/programs/sites/drought/.