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Drought takes toll on boating, rafting at Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) -- After first putting a damper on skiing and snowboarding in the winter, the drought now is taking a toll on boating and rafting around Lake Tahoe.

Larry Boerner, owner of the paddlewheeler Tahoe Gal, said he can offer sightseeing cruises when the lake is a foot below its natural rim, but operations would prove difficult if water levels fall beyond that point. Tahoe's water level stood at 6,223.98 feet above sea level as of Tuesday, barely above its natural rim of 6,223 feet.

Boerner said he usually operates from mid-May to mid-October, but the drought may cut his season short.

“The east shore has a lot of little rocks, and there's a lot of obstacles starting to show now, so you've got to be much more careful,” he told the Tahoe Daily Tribune (http://bit.ly/UsJA4w ).

Owners of the Truckee River Rafting Co. and IRIE Rafting Co. say low flows won't permit rafting on the upper Truckee in August, one of their most profitable months. The season usually lasts into October.

“After Aug. 1, unfortunately, the water master has informed us that the resource is no longer there, so we're going to get much lower flows that we're not going to be able to raft on,” said Frank Wohlfahrt, president of IRIE Rafting. “I'm not going to lie. It is financially painful for us to lose a third of our season, but it is what it is.”

Starting Monday, the Sand Harbor boat ramp on Tahoe's northeast shore also will be closed for the rest of the season because of low water levels. The ramp stays open year-round during a normal snowpack year.

“This is not the earliest closing they have ever had, but it is relatively early,” said Jenny Ramella, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Boat-launching is still available at nearby Cave Rock on Tahoe's east shore, and Sand Harbor remains open for kayaks and other non-motorized watercraft.

Jim Phelan, general manager of the Tahoe City Marina, said he has seen more boat-propeller damage caused by lower water levels.

“I really feel for the boaters as the launch ramps close down,” he said.

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Information from: Tahoe Daily Tribune, http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/

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