Western Nevada faces severe drought
RENO, Nev. ” A lackluster winter and higher than normal temperatures are causing significant drought conditions in Western Nevada and the Sierra, experts said.
While urban water needs in the Reno area will be adequate thanks to two previous wet winters and reservoir storage on the Truckee River, drought conditions in the high country and outlying regions will be severe, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Such conditions are expected to persist or intensify, the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration forecast said in its latest seasonal drought outlook.
“It’s pretty nasty indeed,” said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the Nebraska-based Drought Center, said Tuesday of conditions taking shape across the West.
This year’s dismal winter finished with a Sierra snowpack less than half of what it should be. Dry conditions were exacerbated by above normal temperatures this spring that led to an early, rapid snowmelt.
That means less water will flow from a melting snowpack into the region’s rivers and streams during the remainder of the spring and early summer.
According to recent projections by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, stream runoff in the Lake Tahoe Basin is expected to be 26 percent of normal. Runoff in the Carson River Basin could drop as low as 18 percent, the lowest in the state.
“It’s really dry. The runoff won’t be much,” said Garry Stone, federal watermaster. “As a matter of fact, it will be very little.”
But Stone said Lake Tahoe and other reservoirs along the Truckee River system remain full because of above normal snowfalls in 204-2005 and 2005-2006.
Releases from Tahoe and Boca reservoirs should allow normal flows of the Truckee River during the summer, with no water supply problems expected in Reno-Sparks, Stone said.
The situation could be far different along river systems without reservoir storage, including the upper Carson and Walker rivers’ basins.
“The places without upstream storage will really hurt,” Stone said. “The numbers speak for themselves, and it’s going to be dire on the upper Carson.”
Severe drought conditions existing across western Nevada and all along the Sierra will spell trouble for both vegetation and wildlife, experts said. They also are all but certain to mean that an already active wildfire season will intensify in the heat of summer.
“We’ve already seen it dry enough to burn all winterlong in most places,” said Mike Dondero, fire management officer for the Nevada Division of Forestry.
Lack of moisture in the mountains will increase risk of major fires in the timbered upper elevations and Nevada’s lower-elevation range country, Dondero said.
“It’s really putting the high country, and when I say high country I mean our watershed, at risk of wildfire,” Dondero said.
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