In the battle of elements, fire is currently besting water across the West. Amid raging wildfires, the drought continues and its impacts will be on stark display this fall as Lake Tahoe stops flowing into the Truckee River. However, says Geoff Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, there are upsides to a desiccated waterfront.
Meanwhile, on the human-front, the $60 million Tahoe City Lodge has been lodged on readers’ radar for some time. As the North Shore’s first new major hotel in more than half a century, the project was approved in 2017 and proceeded with the demolition of the existing Henrikson building in 2019, but actual construction of the lodge has been stalled in the courts for years. Samir Tuma, founder and CEO of Kila Properties, the developer of the lodge, lets readers in on the fact that the lodge is coming to life.
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Tahoe’s Low Flow
Is the water out of Tahoe really going to stop flowing into the Truckee River in October?
Current indications are that, yes, in October the lake will fall below its natural rim and water flow through the dam at Tahoe City will stop.
That estimate is based on the current lake level, and the historical rate of lake level drop in the summer and fall. The lake level drops about 1/3 inch per week. Most of the drop is due to the high rate of evaporation at Lake Tahoe. Unseasonably high rainfall would push back the date, but we rarely get very much rain in summer.
What are the impacts of this low flow on the Truckee River? On Lake Tahoe?
For the river this means a major source of its water inflow will stop. There will still be minor inputs from groundwater seepage. There will also be inflow from small streams (such as Squaw Creek and Donner Creek) as well as releases from Prosser and Stampede reservoirs. So, moving downstream, the Truckee River flow rate will increase.
The environmental impacts are mixed. Most creeks in the West have experienced drying out in the summer and their biota are adapted for this. There will be sad sights such as trout stranded in shrinking ponds with diminishing oxygen levels. There will also be environmental opportunities, such as chances to easily remove non-native plants that have invaded certain reaches.
The impacts to Lake Tahoe are also mixed. Lower water levels mean larger beaches, although the water at popular beaches is far shallower. In some cases, the absence of water will kill invasive species such as Corbicula fluminea, the Asian Clam. However, it will also be fatal for native clams that burrow into the sand at the margins of the lake. Recreationally, boat ramps and docks will end before the water’s edge.
Was this something that would happen before the dam was put in?
Absolutely. Seasonal fluctuations in water level are natural for all lakes. In the Sierra we typically have the highest water levels in late spring, and the lowest levels in late fall. Drier winters often give way to many lakes falling below their natural rim.
How long will these conditions last at Lake Tahoe? Nobody knows. Over the last hundred years, such events lasted from a few weeks to two to three years. Further back in time we know there were droughts that lasted hundreds of years. Lake Tahoe’s water level was more than 20 feet below the current level and large conifers grew in what are now the open waters of the lake.
~ Geoff Schladow, director, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center
The Grand Hotel
Why is it taking so long for the Tahoe City Lodge to come to life?
The answer to this question is quite simple: vexatious litigation.
Soon after the project received its approvals from Placer County, the first of two frivolous lawsuits was filed against the project and took approximately one year to resolve. On the eve of commencing construction in 2018, another equally frivolous suit was filed. The process of resolving those lawsuits took nearly four years but was finally put to rest earlier this summer.
In the fall of 2019, even with the legal issues pending, the lodge’s development team proceeded with initial demolition of the old “eye sore” that once dominated the entrance to Tahoe City. Earlier this summer, as soon as the last legal hurdle was eliminated, the team immediately moved full speed ahead to finish demolition of the site and relocate sewer and gas lines that ran through the middle of the property. That work is in process and scheduled to be completed in late September. The vertical construction is targeted to start next spring and the lodge is expected to have its grand opening in 2023.
While the process has been long and challenging, the future looks bright! The construction of the lodge will deliver over $50 million of local economic activity, plus over $10 million in annual economic benefit to the local community. The development and construction activities will create over 300 jobs, and the lodge’s operations will create over 75 ongoing jobs. The lodge will help achieve major environmental gains, including removal of dilapidated buildings that were having a negative impact on the environment, replacing them with environmentally superior buildings, reducing vehicle miles traveled (local beds = fewer car trips), and restoring sensitive lands, just to mention a few. The lodge will bring much needed high-quality lodging to the town center, will have new dining options for locals and visitors and will feature a first of its kind rooftop deck with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe!
The process has been challenging, but the North Shore of Lake Tahoe is on the verge of enjoying the many, many benefits that the Tahoe City Lodge will bring to town!
~ Samir Tuma, CEO of Kila Properties