Mad River Union
RUTH LAKE – When Humboldt County residents want to enjoy some summer sunshine and water skiing, many of them head to Ruth Lake, a popular getaway in neighboring Trinity County.
But unless there is significant rainfall in the coming months, boat launches at the reservoir will be high and dry this summer. Trailerable boats won’t be motoring on the lake, located about 12 miles from the Humboldt County line off Highway 36.
The drought has lowered lake levels to the point that there is only one boat launch open at the marina. With the water level slowing dropping, that launch may be unusable by the end of next week.
“It just gets shallower day by day,” said Steve Canale, manager of the Ruth Lake Community Services District.
As of Jan. 22, the lake was 24 feet shallower than it would normally be at this time of year, according to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD). The HBMWD operates the R.W. Matthews Dam, which forms the Ruth Reservoir by holding back the waters of the Mad River in southern Trinity County.
The Ruth Lake Community Services District operates three campgrounds at the lake – Ruth Rec, with 90 sites, Hobart, with 23 sites, and Boy Scout Camp, with 20 sites. The campgrounds are located near the lake against a backdrop of white fir and ponderosa pine.
Ruth Rec has a boat ramp, but it is already closed because of low water levels.
Water levels are so low, Canale said, that there’s no water at the Hobart campground.
The campgrounds will still open May 1 for the summer season. Canale said there should be enough water for swimming. Campers will still be able to use kayaks and rafts on the lake. But if the water levels remain low, there won’t be any launching of larger boats. The marina would also remain closed.
Many of the visitors to Ruth Lake are drawn there because of the boating. If boating is not an option, they’ll likely go elsewhere.
“It would be fairly devastating to our area,” Canale said.
The services district employees about 20 seasonal workers for the summer camping season, with roughly half of them at the marina. If the marina closes, the staffing would be “greatly reduced,” he said.
Although the situation looks dire, it's not hopeless.
"I we get a few good winter storms, we can fill it (the lake)," said HBMWD General Manager Carol Rische.
She said the reservoir has filled with water every year in its 52-year history, except for the 1976-77 weather season. During that drought, the reservoir was at 35 percent capacity. Even with this year's low rainfall, the lake is now at 55 percent – enough water to supply HBMWD customers in McKinleyville, Arcata, Blue Lake, Fieldbrook, Eureka, Cutten and Manila for an entire year.
The HBMWD doesn't plan to institute mandatory water rationing. However, it is looking at options for saving water and encourages customers to conserve.
From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2013, the Ruth Lake area received 5.11 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. There is no “normal” rainfall calculated for Ruth Lake by the NWS. A chart provided to the Union from the Ruth Lake Community Services District shows rainfall totals of 50.75 in 2013, 51.70 inches in 2012 and 77.24 inches in 2011.
That's significantly more than Eureka. From the start of the weather season on July 1, 2013 to Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, the NWS measured 5.85 inches of rain at its gauge at Woodley Island. Normal for this time of year is 21.62 inches.
Last year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, was the driest year in Eureka since records started being collected about 130 years ago with total rainfall at 16.60 inches. Normal annual rainfall for Eureka is 40.31 a year.