In the throes of a fourth consecutive year of drought, to see 51,037 acre feet — the storage in the Lake Kaweah basin as of Wednesday, March 25 — of water in Lake Kaweah is refreshing, at least for the time being. Longtime Lake Kaweah park ranger Matt Murphy said that water level is normal for this time of year.
“Compared to the other reservoirs in the state we’re in pretty good shape,” said Ranger Matt. “I was down near the stream at Slick Rock this week and it was flowing pretty good.”
Matt said there is still plenty of current that on one of these warm afternoons someone will inevitably take a dip by accident or not and find themselves in trouble. That means that rangers and swiftwater rescue personnel will have to pluck somebody out of the turgid water like they’ve done so many times before.
There is more danger in a drought year when the lower flowing stream appears even more inviting than when it’s ripping with high whitewater and the risk is obvious. In nearly three decades at Lake Kaweah, Matt has just about seen it all.
Last year, the basin peaked at 90,000 acre feet; that’s half of what the basin was enlarged to hold in 2004.
This year, if it doesn’t rain another drop it’s probable that the lake level will only reach 70,000 acre feet. That doesn’t bode well for hundreds of area residents and visitors who depend on Lake Kaweah as their prime recreation destination during the summer months.
Though the snowpack is dwindling fast, there is always the possibility for a significant rain event that could send torrents of cascading muddy water down the Kaweah drainage.
Recreation and vacations
Matt said at Lake Kaweah there is always a bright side. This year, the Horse Creek Campground won’t be inundated by high water and has been able to accommodate lots of campers.
In addition to the excellent spring camping at Lake Kaweah, there is currently exceptional kayaking, birding, fishing, boating, and nice trails for dog-walkers.
Testing the waters
Lake Kaweah stats as of March 25— Elevation: 634.83 feet above mean sea level (maximum fill level at the Terminus Dam spillway is 715 feet). Storage: 51,037 acre feet. Outflow: 30 cubic feet per second. Mean inflow: 186 cfs (at Three Rivers 160 cfs).
Rainfall in the current season— Lake Kaweah: 7.10 inches. Ash Mountain in Sequoia National Park: 11.08 inches (since July 1, 2014). Three Rivers: 9 inches (approximate, depending on the collection location).