Winter may be over, but the heavy snowpack will mean narrower beaches, delayed access to high-elevation hiking and biking trails, and potential flooding. At the end of March, California Department of Water Resources staff found the equivalent of 45.8 inches of water, 164 percent of the historical average, in the statewide snowpack. “We still have a very substantial snowpack, particularly in the higher elevations in the central and southern Sierra,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. Some areas around Lake Tahoe broke alltime snow-depth records, with Heavenly Mountain Resort reporting 659 inches of snow. A Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL site at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe in Nevada recorded 194 inches of snow containing the equivalent of 83.7 inches of water in early April. Water content in the snow was 227 percent of the median, an all-time April 1 record. “In the Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Carson and Walker basins, the 2017 snowpack ranks among the top handful of years, especially, at sites above 8,000 feet elevation,” the report said. Changes to Lake Tahoe are apparent. Stretches of beach widened by five years of drought were narrowed, and streams were swollen to at or above their banks. Piers and boat ramps were inundated again. Areas with a rocky shoreline may be inaccessible, the U.S. Forest Service said. “In marshes and wetlands, higher water is pushing the waterfowl nesting habitat toward the edges, and therefore in closer contact with recreationists,” said Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Herron. “Please avoid these areas and do not allow dogs to enter the marshes or wetlands. This will allow waterfowl to nest without disruption.” The area between the natural rim of Lake Tahoe, at 6,223 feet above sea level, and the maximum legal limit of 6,229.1 feet of elevation acts as a reservoir, with outflows at the Tahoe City Dam controlled by the U.S. District Court Water Master in Reno. The office began spilling water from the dam in February. In April 2016, the lake level hovered around the natural rim. April 2017 saw the biggest rise in water levels in 118 years of record keeping, said Water Master Chad Blanchard. Sierra snowmelt usually peaks in late The bike path outside Tahoe City sits beneath the Truckee River this spring. Officials warn visitors that their favorite beaches may be inaccessible this summer due to the higher water levels. Summer clarity declines while winter shows big improvement Lake Tahoe clarity levels in 2016 increased in winter and decreased in summer, according to annual readings taken by the University of California, Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC). Readings for summer are attributed to the continuing effects of climate change, researchers at U.C. Davis said. The summer declines were so large that they outweighed the substantially improved winter clarity, which was the best since 2012. TERC and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency released the clarity measurement for Lake Tahoe for 2016 in May. The data show the average annual clarity level for 2016 at 69.2 feet, which is a 3.9-foot decrease from the previous year but still more than 5 feet greater than the lowest recorded average of 64.1 feet in 1997. The 2016 clarity level is the average of 30 individual readings taken from January through December 2016. The highest value recorded in 2016 was an astounding 95.1 feet on Jan. 25, and the lowest was 44.3 feet on June 7. Despite 2016’s summer decline, the data record indicates that Lake Tahoe’s long-term trend of clarity decline ended about 15 years ago. Since then, clarity has hovered around a value of 71 feet but with sizable interannual and seasonal variability. In addition, Lake Tahoe met its first five-year target for clarity restoration. In 2011, the Regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the governors of California and Nevada signed a commitment to restore the historic clarity of Lake Tahoe over the next 65 years. They also established interim targets to assess our progress toward the goal, 71 feet of clarity by 2016 and 78 feet of clarity by 2026. The five-year annual average clarity increased to 73 feet in 2016, a 5-foot improvement since 2011 and 2 feet better than the target established by the two states for 2016. Hitting this first milestone is an historic accomplishment. May or early June, but peak flows may come later this year. Temperatures and additional precipitation help determine the runoff peak, and heat waves and rains could increase the risk of flooding as the snow melts. “Rivers and streams will be running cold, fast, and high this year,” Herron said. “Avoid areas that are already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast, and don’t try to cross swift-moving rivers and streams.” Backcountry users should be prepared for snow well into the summer. The Forest Service encourages people to stay on designated roads and trails and avoid wet roads and trails to minimize damage. Will Tahoe remain full for several years or is this year’s high level temporary? “We’ll just have to wait and see,” Blanchard said. The large snow year eased drought restrictions in California, but conservation remains important.