Drought crimps boating in parts of the West

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Boat businesses in Nevada and parts of California are worried that they’ll be shut down by a lingering drought this summer.

Aaron Rudnick doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to operate his California rafting business during this drought-impacted year despite the release of more water into the Truckee River from the Lake Tahoe Dam.

He's concerned that the Truckee River Raft Co. will miss the busiest part of the summer season and that he could be forced to pull his rafts from the water before the Fourth of July.

"Right now it's OK, but in a few weeks it's going to be awful," Rudnick told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "It's the first time we've had the water but not had the people, ever."

In Nevada, other popular boating destinations are in worse shape. The ramps at Lahontan and Rye Patch reservoirs are closed. Boaters can still launch from shore, but they do so at their own risk. Rangers warn of rock and sandbar hazards.

"In general, it's reduced," Nevada State Parks administrator Eric Johnson said of boating-related recreation in western Nevada.

A three-year drought has resulted in two back-to-back years of low water at Lahontan, which has experienced a 90 percent reduction in boating activity, compared with 2012, and an associated drop in camping of 30 percent in May and 40 percent in June. June boating at Rye Patch was down 49 percent and camping 51 percent.

Lake Tahoe is low, as well, but still has lots of water. Despite that, Johnson reports a 53 percent reduction in the number of boats launched at popular Sand Harbor State Park in May, compared with the same month in 2012 — 146 vessels, compared with 308. The Sand Harbor boat ramp is expected to close by July 1.

Tahoe's marinas are starting a busy summer, but some have already conducted or are planning to dredge channels to keep it that way. Among them is Tahoe Keys Marina, which needs to dredge to allow sailboats to enter and leave the marina, said manager Chad Holdren.

Dredging was recently completed at Meeks Bay Resort, said Bob Hassett, who manages the marina there, as well as at Tahoe's Camp Richardson Resort and Round Hill Pines Beach Resort.

Lake Tahoe might actually benefit from the drought as boaters leave other drought-ravaged lakes such as California's Folsom Lake and take their vessels to Tahoe, Hassett said.

"We're in better shape than many places because we have so much water here," Hassett said. "We're hoping for a very good year just because we are in better shape than many places."

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