Climate at a Glance: Water Levels – Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe by Mariusz Blach. Licensed for use by 123RF.

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https://www.heartland.org/_template-assets/documents/Books/CaaG-2022.pdf

Key Takeaways:

  • Lake Tahoe has reached the maximum allowable water level during 2017-2019, requiring special water releases into the Truckee River.
  • The 2015-16 northern California drought was very brief and followed by three consecutive years of abundant precipitation and maximum allowable Lake Tahoe water level.
  • Activists claiming the 2015-16 drought signaled a “new normal” of drought and low water levels caused by climate change have been embarrassed and proven wrong.

Short Summary:

In 2015 and 2016, climate activists frequently asserted that the 2015–16 California drought, as
well as the low water levels at Lake Tahoe allegedly tied to that drought, signaled a “new normal.”1, 2 Since
then, however, Lake Tahoe’s water level reached its maximum allowable limit of nine feet above gage height
(6,229 feet elevation) in 2017, 2018, and 2019, requiring special water releases into the Truckee River.3 (This
is shown clearly in Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Note that Lake Tahoe reached its maximum allowable water limit in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, “USGS 10337000 Lake Tahoe A Tahoe City CA,” U.S. Geological
Survey, National Water Information System, Accessed March 27, 2022, https://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwisweb/graph?agency_cd=USGS&site_no=10337000&parm_cd=00065&period=4478.

References:

  1. Benjamin Spillman, “The ‘New Normal’? Sierra Snow Drought Endures Despite
    ‘Miracle’ March,” Reno Gazette-Journal, April 16, 2018, https://www.rgj.com/story/
    life/outdoors/2018/04/16/new-normal-sierra-snow-drought-endures-despite-miraclemarch/
    513227002
  2. Center for Watershed Sciences, “Is California’s Drought a ‘New Normal’?,” University
    of California at Davis, July 15, 2015, https://californiawaterblog.com/2015/07/15/iscalifornias-
    drought-a-new-normal
  3. U.S. Geological Survey, “USGS 10337000 Lake Tahoe A Tahoe City CA,” U.S. Geological
    Survey, National Water Information System, accessed July 24, 2021, https://nwis.
    waterdata.usgs.gov/nwisweb/graph?agency_cd=USGS&site_no=10337000&parm_
    cd=00065&period=4478
  4. Laney Griffo, “Drought Measures: Lake Tahoe Water Released to Meet Goals
    Downstream,” Tahoe Daily Tribune, June 11, 2021, accessed July 26, 2021, https://
    www.tahoedailytribune.com/news/drought-measures-lake-tahoe-water-released-tomeet-
    goals-downstream


Climate At A Glance is a Project of The Heartland Institute
Email: think@heartland.org