Lake Tahoe saw its fifth wettest December on record with 12.68 inches of precipitation thanks mostly to the Christmas storm that dumped 105 inches of snow at Tahoe City.
Most news coverage focused on Tahoe, but Douglas County’s other lake saw a big increase in moisture as well.
Since Oct. 21, the volume of water stored in Topaz Lake increased by a factor of five, increasing from 4,150-acre-feet to 24,090-acre-feet, according to the Walker Basin Conservancy. The amount of water in Bridgeport Lake tripled, with the snowpack at 130 percent of average for the year.
“We’re delighted to get some much-needed precipitation,” said Conservancy Executive Director Peter Stanton. “I think it’s fair to say that all of us within the Walker Basin are feeling hopeful that this winter continues in a positive direction to help provide plenty of water next season.”
Even with a near record storm, the barest sliver of Western Nevada, including Tahoe and most of Carson Valley, has only been upgraded from persistent drought to drought remains but improves, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.
“We are cautiously optimistic going into 2022,” Walker Irrigation District General Manager Robert Bryan said. “We aren’t currently out of the drought yet but as of now, we have more water in Topaz Lake than we did in March 2021. That should put us in a better position for water availability for the 2022 irrigation season.”
The Walker River passes through far eastern Douglas County on its way to terminal Walker Lake and has several reservoirs.
The snowpack is virtually the only upstream storage on the Carson River which Valley ranchers use to irrigate their fields. The river doesn’t provide drinking water to Carson Valley, but it does provide some recharge for the aquifer and when it’s full, keep ranchers from dipping into supplemental groundwater rights that account for around half the dedicated water rights in the basin.
Natural Resources Conservation Service snow telemetry shows the snow-water equivalent at Ebbetts Pass at the top of the East Fork of the Carson River is at 141 percent average with 16.8 inches of water locked into the snowpack.
Carson Pass is at 166 percent average with 17.8 inches, as of Wednesday morning.
On Monday, the Conservation Service will hike out to Mount Rose to plant a pole to measure a snowpack that is 234 percent of average above Lake Tahoe.
The California Department of Water Resources conducted the first snow survey of the season at Phillips Station on Dec. 30, recording 78.5 inches of snow and 20 inches of water.
“We could not have asked for a better December in terms of Sierra snow and rain,” said Director Karla Nemeth. “But Californians need to be aware that even these big storms may not refill our major reservoirs during the next few months. We need more storms and average temperatures this winter and spring, and we can’t be sure it’s coming. So, it’s important that we continue to do our part to keep conserving – we will need that water this summer.”
The outlook for January is for a chance for below average temperatures with a coin toss when it comes to precipitation.
After a quick-moving storm on Friday, high pressure is expected to keep the storms away through the following week.