Low lake level makes it rough for boats

Boats, especially sailboats with deep keels, may get stuck around the shores of Lake Tahoe this summer because of low water.

The lake is 18 inches lower than it was this time last year, a fact which has already led to the closing of three boat ramps at South Shore.

Motor-powered vessels can't launch at the El Dorado boat ramp, Camp Richardson Marina and Timber Cove Marina, but Tahoe Keys Marina and Cave Rock State Park boat ramp are still safe spots to drop onto the lake.

"We have plenty of water for everything except launching," said Bob Hassett, owner of marinas at Timber Cove and Camp Richardson. "I think people need to be just a little more careful toward the shoreline. Besides that, we have some wonderful boating out there."

The Tahoe Keys Marina boat ramp drops into 18 to 20 feet of water so it's drought-proof, said Richard Horton, co-owner of the marina. But during low-water years, the chance of a sailboat getting stuck as it leaves or enters the marina is real.

To avoid the problem, Horton said the Tahoe Keys Marina has already told owners of larger sailboats they might want to moor them in waters off the Camp Richardson Marina. Hassett said he has about 30 moorings still available at Camp Rich and about 20 at Timber Cove.

"It depends how low the water gets," Horton said. "Some taller boats drop to 4 feet. If it gets lower, they are in danger."

Last year, the marina had to excavate 200 to 300 cubic yards of sand from the bulkhead, an area where the lake meets an 80-foot-wide channel that leads to the marina lagoon.

"It's the slow wash of sand into the channel," Horton said. "If the water stays high, it doesn't bother us."

This year, the marina has already filed an application with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency requesting permission to dredge in the lake north of the marina channel. It would be considered maintenance dredging, the only type of digging in the lake the TRPA will approve.

If the project gets a go-ahead, 7,000 cubic yards of sand would be scooped out of the lake starting in September. The goal is to rid the channel of 2 to 4 feet of sand in an area that stretches 1,400 feet out into the lake.

The sand, soil and sediment will be left to dry on marina-owned land along Venice Drive before it's trucked out of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

"This dredging is necessary to remove sand that had been deposited in the open channel by wave action," wrote Garth Alling, an employee at the Tahoe Keys Marina, to the TRPA. "If the lake level continues to drop, the Tahoe Keys Marina could be faced with a serious issue of limited access to the lake for boats moored therein."

The open channel was last dredged in 1991. The east channel, or the channel that leads to the marina lagoon, was dredged in 1985, 1992 and 1997, according to TRPA records.

A dredging application must be reviewed by the TRPA, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Division of State Lands, Army Corps of Engineers and California Division of Fish and Game before it is approved.

"No. 1 with maintenance dredging is that they don't go below the (lake's) historic level," said Lyn Barnett, project review division chief at the TRPA. "We look at the equipment used to do the work, where the dredged material will be stored and how it will be disposed of."

The Tahoe Keys Marina plans to suck, not dig, the sand from the lake. Suction reduces the amount of sand mixing. Turbidity curtains will also be used to contain the unearthed sediments.

"When you disturb things, you're potentially releasing new nutrients into the lake," Barnett said. "They get flushed out and can cause an algae bloom."

But algae blooms are far from a boater's mind when it's a beautiful Tahoe summer day. They want out on the lake.

"My season ended early last year," said Doyle Harris, who keeps his boat docked next to a home at the Tahoe Keys. "Not only was I hitting bottom, but grass out there grabbed me. Last year, we weren't able to get out after early October. This year, it's a real concern with the water level so low. I'll just sail as much as I can."


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