Drought looming in Tahoe again

INCLINE VILLAGE - Drought worries are being felt throughout the western United States, including the Sierra Nevada.

Recent headlines about Carson City exceeding its water allotment and news of Lake Tahoe predicted to fall below its rim this summer are causing some concern among basin residents.

Scientist and regional climate experts for the Reno-based Desert Research Institute believe droughts occur cyclically. Tree-ring records from before recorded history and the tree stumps at the bottom of Lake Tahoe help put the present-day drought into perspective.

"In November/December, when we got precipitation, the level came back up again," said DRI's Dr. Kelly Redmond. "The system here is driven by winter."

Snowpack allows a gradual watering to occur as the snow melts slowly, only a half an inch or so a day. Redmond compared it to a slow-cooking stew rather than flash-frying.

On the other hand, summer precipitation is so slight that it's not enough to matter, he added. Then, at the end of summer and into fall, evaporation occurs, and there's nothing that can be done about it. Evaporation varies depending on wind and temperature.

"Typically, the lake goes up and down, varying about 18 inches a year," Redmond said.

Dr. Jim Ashby at the Desert Research Institute said the present drought is "nowhere near the most severe the area has experienced."

In the mid-970s, the region had two drought years that were brutal, he said. The late '80s to early '90s produced drought in seven out of eight years, said Redmond.

Ashby said precipitation during the last few calendar years has been only a couple of inches below normal.

"We have to react (when drought conditions exist) but we also have to put it into perspective," Redmond said.


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