Speed Reads

lake half full

Massive storm brings Lake Tahoe's water levels back above natural rim

Heavy rain and snow fell in Northern California over the weekend — so much that Lake Tahoe's water levels are back above the natural rim.

Water levels at the Tahoe City dam rose almost 6 inches in 24 hours, the U.S. Geological Survey said, and more than 24 inches of snow fell in the mountains around the Tahoe Basin. This was welcome news, as last week, Lake Tahoe's water levels dipped about an inch below the natural rim of the basin. When the levels plummet below the rim, the lake is no longer connected to the Truckee River, its only outlet. Drought, fueled by climate change, is causing the levels to drop more often and earlier than normal.  

While the rainfall was definitely needed, it's not enough to solve Lake Tahoe's water troubles, experts say. Because the lake was only an inch below the rim, the massive storm was able to raise the water levels quickly, but they are nowhere near where they should be, SFGate reports — Lake Tahoe is considered full when water levels are roughly 6 feet above the natural rim.

For Lake Tahoe to get into a good position, scientists say this winter needs to have above-average rain and snow fall, with the snowpack not melting until after spring. Without this, the lake may drop below its natural rim earlier next year. 

While this weekend's storm was significant, it isn't going to make much of a dent in the drought hitting the Western U.S. Nevada's Lake Mead is a major water source for California, and Bill Patzert, a retired climate scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, told the Los Angeles Times that he estimates it would take 17 years of above-normal rainfall and snowpack to bring the depleted lake back to where it should be. "There's no quick fix to the drought," Patzert said.