Sierra storms bring joy to water users

Lahontan Reservoir begins to see levels rise

Lahontan Reservoir is benefitting from the latest round of storms that increased the water content in the Sierra Nevada.

Lahontan Reservoir is benefitting from the latest round of storms that increased the water content in the Sierra Nevada. Photo by Steve Ranson.

Lahontan Valley ranchers and farmers are jumping for joy after a series of storms battered the Sierra Nevada last week to increase the water content in the mountains.
Although the water level in the Sierra and local reservoirs doesn’t match the totals at the same time last year, the National Weather Service in Reno said it’s a big start.
Edan Weishahn, a meteorologist with the NWS office in Reno, said the snow water equivalent in four basin sites that feed water to the lower elevations, rose to about 75% to 80% of Saturday’s median peak’s basin index. The Carson River basin rose to 86% with three areas now above normal, and the year-to-date precipitation is at a 64% of normal. The Truckee River basin index is now at a 81% with the year-to-date precipitation at 62% of normal, and the Lake Tahoe basin index is at a median of 84% with three areas rising above 100%. The Walker River basin is at 75% with Leavitt Meadows the only area above 100%. The year-to-date precipitation is 63% of normal at Lake Tahoe, but it’s slightly higher for the Walker River basin at 73%.
“It’s not where we were in 2020, but we made some progress,” she said.
Weishahn said these numbers should be higher after another storm comes through the area this week.
Rusty Jardine, general manager and legal counsel for the Truckee Carson Irrigation District, said the new accumulation totals in the Sierra are encouraging.
“If it (snowfall) will occur at a measured rated, then the runoff will be the way we wanted it,” he said.
To put it into perspective, Jardine said the capacity of the Lahontan Reservoir, though, is not near the totals from the previous four years. As of Feb. 1, the reservoir’s capacity is over 89,000 acre-feet compared to 171,674 acre feet last year. One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land. The full capacity of Lahontan Reservoir is 308,000 acre feet. Despite the latest storms, the U.S. Drought Monitor, though, stills shows most of the Great Basin in a severe drought category.
During the record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada in 2017, the reservoir’s capacity held 160,314 acre feet of water but because of the excessive amount of water content remaining in the Sierra, Jardine said TCID had to construct an emergency weir and spillway on the V-line canal to send excess water into the desert and eventually channeled to the “Big Dig,” a 17-mile channel that carried water from the Carson Lake to the Carson Sink via the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Since February 2017, TCID released more than 300,000 acre-feet of water from the reservoir in anticipation of a runoff that could equal the content of two Lahontan Reservoirs.
Jardine said Monday the reservoir has plenty of room for any runoff, and sections of the Carson River have been cleared of debris, specifically at the Bafford Lane bridge and the Reno Highway west of Coleman Road. He said the Reno Highway crossing tends to get clogged up with sediment.
“All is looking good,” he said, adding after February, all stakeholders will have a better idea on water content and runoff totals.
Jardine said TCID sets water allocations in March. TCID was able to release 100% of water from the Truckee division and 95% from the Carson division on April 1, 2020. Also in March, Jardine added, will be a special election to approve a new 25-year operating agreement between TCID and the Bureau of Reclamation.

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