And the Water Slowly Rises

by Tim Hauserman

After late September, the boats sitting placidly in front of the Sunnyside Lodge pier are put away and only the particularly hearty take a dive into Lake Tahoe. It’s about this time every year that California’s dry and warm fall tends to slowly evaporate away inches of the lake, as we wait for the winter snows to replenish its supply. Tahoe’s natural rim is 6223 feet above sea level (at this level water stops flowing into the Truckee River), and the legal limit of how high it it allowed to go is 6229 feet. Over the past five years, we have managed to go both below the rim, and above the legal limit. This past summer the lake sat right in the sweet spot, nice and high, but not so high as to damage piers or eliminate all the beaches. 

At the end of September the lake level was 6227.4 feet. Starting in early October the lake level began a slow and steady decline as we enjoyed sunny days on our bikes, or hiked along Tahoe’s shoreline. The decline slowed in late November when the first rain and snow arrived, but it was only enough moisture to stop the decline and not really raise the lake level.  It was going up and down in a narrow range near the 6226.6 level.

On January 5th, several weeks of big rain and snow events blessed us, and the lake level started climbing at a steady pace, reaching 6227.1 on January 26th. While that might only be about six inches of rise, given the size of Lake Tahoe it is a whole heck of a lot of water.

What the future holds for our favorite piece of blue paradise is above my pay grade. Usually if we get an average or above average winter, the lake should rise another foot or more reaching a peak in the late spring, then staying fairly steady through the summer, before a more rapid rate of lake level decline in the fall.

Interested in following what is happening with the level of the lake? If you are here in Tahoe, a great source for information is to walk behind the Lake Tahoe Dam and check out the charts. There you will find a graph of the lake level over the last 100 years, as well as information on the current lake level and how much water is being released from the dam. Online, you can go to the United States Geological Services website which shows a graph of the current lake level, as well as what the recent trends have been.