Washoe Lake level finally dropping a bit

Washoe Lake, which this spring came close to overflowing its banks, is finally dropping, albeit by just a foot since June.

But that foot is important to the Nevada Department of Transportation because, with a record winter followed by warm spring weather, the lake came perilously close to 5,033 elevation — the low point of Interstate 580 just north of the Bellevue Bridge.

NDOT spokesman Meg Ragonese said at its peak in late June, the water elevation was more than 5,030.

It came even closer to the roadway on the west side of the freeway, forcing maintenance crews to work overtime to keep the culverts that let the water flow under the road and into the lake clear of debris.

She said high flows in Ophir Creek at the valley’s northern end of Washoe Valley clogged those culverts, ditches and drainage structures with debris that crews had to remove so the water didn’t back up on the west side of the freeway.

But the lake continued to rise, in part because it is fed by 11 streams — eight on the west wide and three on the east — but only has one outlet — Steamboat Creek in the northeast corner of the valley.

NDOT engineers have been working with the water master and the private company that controls Steamboat Creek since February to control the lake level.

That was a big problem when the record snowpack started to melt. But, now, federal water master Chad Blanchard says “outflow” is finally greater than “inflow” not only in Washoe Lake but Lake Tahoe — largely because of evaporation under the record temperatures western Nevada has been enduring.

As a result, Ragonese said the lake surface elevation is now down to 5,029 feet above sea level. While a foot may not seem like much, it represents many thousands of gallons of water from the three-mile long, two-mile wide lake.

Washoe Lake Park Supervisor Jennifer Dawson said the falling water level is typical for this time of year as temperatures rise. But she said because the lake is full, “we are having an excellent summer.” Dawson said visitation is at an all-time high.

“People are out on the water on jet skis and boats,” she said. “People are picnicking and spending the day enjoying friends and family out on the lake. It’s been nice.”

She said there is enough water that, “I imagine we’ll have a great year next year as well.”

“It depends on what next winter will bring us but even if we have a poor winter, we’ll still have water for visitors to enjoy,” she said.


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