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Lake Tahoe’s water level highest in more than 5 years

Amanda Fehd
Nevada Appeal News Service

March delivered enough snow and rain to be good news for boaters and marinas: Lake Tahoe is higher now than it has been in 5 1/2 years.

The lake’s surface elevation as of Thursday was 6,227 feet, and it will most likely fill another two feet to its upper limit at 6,229.1 sometime this year, according to Federal Water Master Garry Stone in Reno.

High precipitation numbers last year officially brought the region out of drought, according to the National Weather Service in Reno. But the lake was so depleted from years past, it took a year to catch up to normal levels.

High water levels have shrunk beaches around the lake, but have made it possible for several boat ramps and piers to reopen after low water forced them to close for several years.

Eldorado Beach boat ramp at the South Shore is already open, according to South Lake Tahoe city parks superintendent Steve Weiss. Its $13 launch fee is among the more affordable on the lake.

The city received a grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways to build a parking lot for the ramp, with the condition that the fee stay at $13 for 20 years.

A higher lake means safer and more accessible boating for all, said Lew Long, regional affairs point man for the South Tahoe Yacht Association.

And higher waters could make it possible for a boat ramp and gas dock at Camp Richardson to open soon, Long said.

Whitewater rafting companies are also looking forward to another wet year.

Grass Valley-based Tributary Whitewater Tours has already run a few trips on the American River and anticipates starting operations in the Tahoe area in mid-May. They don’t depend on Lake Tahoe’s level as much as how much is released from Boca Reservoir, said office manager Lorraine Hall. Still, all the snow means the East Fork of the Carson River should be raging for a while this summer, she said.

The lake’s natural rim lies at 6,223 but a dam at Tahoe City keeps it from going that low most years.

The federal government and state of California have set its upper limit at 6,229.1 feet to prevent shoreline erosion, according to the water master.

In 1907 it reached its highest level in 100 years at 6,231 feet. It reached its lowest level in 1992 at 6220.2 feet.

Beaches 40 yards wide in 2004 have shrunk down to a mere few feet in South Shore. That means less habitat for the rare Tahoe Yellow Cress, a small plant of the mustard family that only grows on sandy Tahoe beaches.