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Another drought year a real possibility

Lake County Record-Bee logo Lake County Record-Bee 10/27/2020 Terry Knight
a wooden bench sitting next to a body of water: Clearlake Oaks had no shortage of water during the wet winter of 2016-17. (File photo) © Provided by Lake County Record-Bee Clearlake Oaks had no shortage of water during the wet winter of 2016-17. (File photo)

The lack of fall storms means that California and Lake County could be facing another drought year. Many weather experts are predicting lower-than-normal rainfall totals for the upcoming winter. If so, it could have an impact on the local lakes and keep us in a high fire danger situation. One of the big worries among many Lake County residents is the Clear Lake water level. As of Monday the lake level stood at .82 feet on the Rumsey Gauge.

The worst year on record was 1977 when the county received only 12.46 inches of rainfall and the lake level rose to a high of minus-.3 feet. The lowest level that year was minus-3.39 feet. Just about all the boat ramps were left high and dry and people were walking beneath the Rodman Slough Bridge. In more recent times, the worst year was in 1990 when the lake level dropped to .32 feet on the Rumsey Gauge. The highest lake level that year was 3.39 feet. The county received only 18.55 inches of rainfall. That was followed by another drought year in 1991 when the lake level receded to .43 feet and peaked at only 3.98 feet.

Clear Lake is unique in comparison to other lakes in Northern California. Take Lake Shasta for instance. Shasta routinely drops more than 100 feet every year. If the lake level drops seven feet in a year at Clear Lake it’s major news and a cause for concern.

It takes at least six inches of rainfall during a short period of time before any runoff from the surrounding hills flows into the lake. So far this fall the county has received no rain. The water year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The land around the lake is once again becoming dry and none of the streams flowing into the lake hold any water.

Launching boats could be a problem if the drought continues. Of the public ramps, the ones first affected are Redbud Park, the public ramp in Lucerne, and the State Park ramp. They currenty have about a 2-foot depth, even less at Lucerne. The good news is the ramps at Library Park in Lakeport have at least 3 feet of water at the ends of the docks. The same applies to the ramp at Clearlake Oaks and the ramp at Lakeside County Park.

If the drought continues until next spring it could have a major impact on the fish in the lake. The bass wouldn’t be able to get back into the tules to spawn, which means the eggs and nests would be exposed to waves and predators. With dry streams the hitch, a native fish that is already in trouble, won’t be able to spawn. There also would be more weeds. Low water conditions and clear water are the ideal ingredients for massive weed growth.

The current drought has already had a major impact on other lakes in the area. Indian Valley Lake is a good example. The reservoir is down almost 100 feet and the ramps are just barely in the water. The same applies to Lake Pillsbury where the lake is only at only 37 percent of its capacity.

That could all change in a hurry if the rain returns. Normally January and February are the wettest months and it’s too early to be overly concerned. A few years ago the conditions were similar and the “March Miracle” occurred and the lake was full within a matter of two weeks.

All is not gloom and doom. Clear Lake has survived hundreds of droughts in its long history and another one would be just part of its cyclical nature.

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