SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Big winter snowfall makes for small summer beaches at Lake Tahoe.
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And the beaches may not be making a comeback anytime soon.
Lake level rise has already exceeded predictions, said Chad Blanchard, chief deputy water master with the U.S. District Water Master’s Office. It could be another two weeks before the rise abates, Blanchard said.
Lake Tahoe’s water level has been steadily increasing since March, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. On Thursday, lake level was measured at 6.228.24 feet, about five feet above the lake’s natural rim.
The lake rose .05 feet between July 5 and July 7, the largest rise one would expect to see over that time frame, Blanchard said.
The volume of the lake typically peaks in late June and only when evaporation outpaces Lake Tahoe’s tributaries, Blanchard said.
“There’s still a lot of snow up there in spots,” Blanchard said, noting electronic measurements at Independence Lake, near Truckee, show the equivalent of 44 inches of water, 580 percent of the average water content for the area this time of year.
The 18-year veteran of the water masters office compared 2011′s runoff to 1995, when water in the Sierra Nevada snowpack hit 170 percent of normal.
“1995 was actually a little bigger,” Blanchard said, noting the lake’s level did not peak until Aug. 8 that year.
Abundant water has been a boon for boaters and heavy water flows have extended the rafting season on Sierra Nevada rivers, but the runoff has hampered outfitters who run the Truckee river between Tahoe City and Truckee.
Federal regulations prevent the release of extra water from Tahoe reservoirs until Truckee River flows fall below a certain level. Due to the amount of snow on the ground the flows were five times the level that would allow releases, Blanchard said.
But wet spring weather has contributed to an “extremely efficient” runoff that will allow water storage to carryover to next year, providing a buffer against a dry 2012, Blanchard said.
The area has not had carryover storage since 2006.
“The conditions this year have been very favorable to a good runoff,” Blanchard said.