Officials: Reno-Sparks area will have plenty of water, despite low snowpack

The Truckee River winds its way through the canyon near the gypsum plant east of Sparks.

The Tahoe Basin’s snowpack is substantially below average, but municipal water users can rest easy that they will have enough water going into the summer, according to Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

“Despite what’s looking like our second dry year in a row, we’re going to have normal river flows this year into the next. This means business as usual for TMWA customers,” said Bill Hauck, water supply administrator for TMWA, municipal water supplier for the greater Reno/Sparks area.

TMWA serves more than 440,000 people.

This is because upstream reservoirs that supply water to the Reno-Sparks region have not yet seen the impacts of the below-average snow years, Hauck said.

“One or two dry years doesn’t define the water supply for TMWA customers,” Hauck said.

For the second year in a row, the Tahoe Basin’s snowpack is below average — it currently sits at about 71 percent of median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s monthly measurement conducted Monday.

The region is likely headed into its second consecutive dry summer unless heavy precipitation hits the region in March and April, according to Jeff Anderson, hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

With only a 10 to 20 percent chance of that happening, there is potential for an active wildfire season and impacts to recreational activities such as skiing and rafting, he said.

“We had a below average winter last year and another one going this year,” Anderson said. “Things like wildfire, when the forest starts to get stressed, you’re more susceptible to bigger fires.”

As of March 1, snow at the Mt. Rose area measured 68 inches deep, with 21 inches of water content, according to the SNOTEL measurement Monday. That’s about 65 percent of normal.

The lack of precipitation has left soil under the snow at near to record dry levels for this time of year, Anderson said. In the spring, snowmelt will percolate into the soil before heading into rivers and streams, likely leading to less runoff.

Anderson said forecasters are hoping for a Miracle March such as those in 1991 and 2020. In March of 1991, the Lake Tahoe Basin received 257 percent of average precipitation. From mid-March into early April 2020, the Lake Tahoe Basin received 192 percent of average precipitation.

“Hopefully we get some big storms sometime in March,” Anderson said. “Things start to really taper off in April.”

Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Reach her at aalonzo@gannett.com or (775) 741-8588. Here’s how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism