Conservancy board says no to lower Tahoe water level

Lowering Lake Tahoe's water level by a foot would require federal court action and have impacts far from the shoreline some property owners seek to protect with the proposal, water officials were told Wednesday.

"When you lower the lake's level when it is high, it is inevitable that the low levels will also be a foot lower," Sierra Pacific director of water policy Janet Carson told the directors of the Carson Water Subconservancy District.

Carson provided the directors with a graph showing the lake's level over the past 15 years, including a 4.5-year period starting in the summer of 1991 when the level was below the lake's rim. It also showed that, had the lake been a foot lower, that period when no water flowed out of Tahoe would have started two years sooner and lasted 6.5 years.

"I asked the Tahoe property owners' attorney how they would handle the problem of too low of levels and he said by not letting any water out of the lake," Carson said.

Directors voted to tell the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency not to lower the lake's level, as requested by some shoreline property owners.

Sierra Pacific Power Co., a major downstream user of Tahoe water, joined the Washoe County Water Conservation District and the Truckee Carson Irrigation District in asking area governments with an interest in Tahoe's water to oppose any change in how the lake's level is maintained.

Carson City Supervisor Kay Bennett, who serves on the TRPA Board as well as the subconservancy's, said Tahoe water issues are governed by court rulings. She also said the TRPA staff's initial evaluation of the shoreline erosion problem indicated that the high water level of the past two years contributed less than 1 percent to the problem.

Carson and Bennett both warned that adopting the lower level would require years of litigation and cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

"The proposed remedy of that 1 percent is costly and unrealistic and probably would not accomplish what they expect," Bennett said. "There are other ways to remedy the problem and I hope Sierra Pacific and the TCID will be partners in that."

Bennett said the complaining property owners may get some relief even without any action by the TRPA.

"If the ski areas keep using lake water to make snow and the lack of precipitation continues, there's no question that the lake level will be lower," Bennett said.

Director Jacques Etchegoyhen said that during the 1920s the city of Reno had pumped water from Tahoe for four years when the water level was below its natural rim. That ended when the California National Guard was brought in to stop it, he said, "an action I don't think we'd like to see repeated."

The subconservancy district includes representatives from Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties and Carson City, through which the Carson River passes. Officials of Alpine County, Calif., where the river has its head waters, are negotiating the possibility of joining the district as well.


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