RENO — Images of blizzard conditions along the East Coast have many in Northern Nevada watching news reports in painful envy as the region begins 2014 heading into a third year of drought.
“It’s been completely lackluster,” Kelly Redmond of the Western Regional Climate Center told the Reno Gazette-Journal for a report Friday. “It’s kind of left us high and dry.”
The snowpack in the Lake Tahoe Basin stood at around 33 percent of average for this time of year. The Truckee River Basin was even less, at 23 percent. Snow totals are in stark contrast to last year, when storms in December left a snowpack at near twice-normal levels.
But while last year started out with a bang, it quickly turned to a whimper. Mother Nature turned the storm taps off, and by the end of March in some places like Tahoe City, Calif., the water year ended up being the driest recorded in more than century.
The Sierra Nevada as a whole received two-thirds of normal snowpack.
“It only takes a few big storms to change the situation, but we’re definitely going into this winter in a diminished condition,” Redmond said. “It looks like we’re stuck in this pattern.”
After two dry winters, reservoir levels in the region are diminished.
Reservoirs along the Truckee River system that supply the Reno-Sparks area are dropping. The largest, Lake Tahoe, is now at 10 percent of capacity for reservoir storage. When full, the top 6 feet of Tahoe is stored by the Tahoe City Dam for downstream use. Now, Tahoe’s level is about 7 inches above its natural rim.
Unless things turn around this winter, all of that storage will disappear and Lake Tahoe will likely dip below its natural rim sometime this summer. That would mean substantially reduced flows along the Truckee River.
“It’s not looking good at all,” Federal Water Master Chad Blanchard told the newspaper. “There is obviously still hope. We have a lot of winter left, but it’s a terrible start. The longer we stay in this situation, the harder it is to get out.”