Rains helping Lake Tapps water levels, but still slow going

The recent run of rain we’ve received has helped raise the water levels in Lake Tapps by about a foot over the past week, but according to officials for the Cascade Water Alliance, the lake still won’t reach recreation levels until Early May.

“We’re monitoring it every day and it’s all mother nature right now,” Capital Projects Director Jon Shimada said Wednesday.

An agreement signed with homeowners associations around the lake, Cascade is required to have the lake at recreation levels by April 15.

According to gages positioned in the lake, water levels have reached 536 feet above sea level, a foot higher than they were before this past weekend’s storms, but still well below the recreation level of 541 feet.

Shimada said the refill efforts were hampered by one of the driest Marches on record, which he said produced 20 percent less than normal rainfall amounts.

And while the rains last week helped, Shimada said flow levels in the White River, which feeds Lake Tapps, are still “way down.”

“Since the rain stopped, it’s basically back to nothing going into the lake,” he said.

In addition to a dry spring, Shimada said agreements with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Muckleshoot Tribe required Cascade to increase river flows on April 1 from 752 cubic feet per second to 775 cfs. The amount required to stay in the river will jump again to 825 cfs on April 15.

In a previous interview, Cascade CEO Chuck Clarke said normal river flows for this time of year are between 1,000 and 2,000 cfs.

Cascade officials have also said that the drawdown this year was more than usual to allow maintenance and in the hope of killing off more of the Eurasian milfoil, an invasive species of plant that has taken hold in Lake Tapps. In the future, water levels will not be as low when the refill begins.

According to a press release from Cascadia, the refill began on Feb. 15 and was going smoothly until March 17 when river flows “slowed dramatically,” due primarily to the weather.

Shimada said the goal is still to have the lake at recreation levels by early next month, efforts that should be helped by the recent spate of rains and snow in the mountains.

“It’s all dependent on the rain and how much snowpack we can get,” Shimada said. “We hope to get a lot of rain this month.”

To see the most recent measurement of the Lake Tapps water level visit http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv?site_no=12101000