Officials preparing for ‘once in a lifetime’ runoff
March 15, 2017
Gov. Brian Sandoval said Monday the state is doing everything possible to deal with damage from this year's flooding but will have to keep up the work because the battle is far from over.
"We've received 55 feet of snow up there and that's got to come down," he said.
Spring flooding also was the hot topic last week at Carson River Floodplain Management Workshop in Carson City.
"We may be looking at a runoff we see only once in a lifetime or once in a century," said Ed James, general manager, Carson Water Subconservancy District, which hosted the event.
Whether the flooding is historic will be determined by the weather in the next couple of months, said Tim Bardsley, senior service hydrologist, Reno National Weather Service.
"We don't know what the next six to eight weeks are going to be like and that will determine whether we have big problems or minor problems," said Bardsley.
Drier weather plus higher temperatures, like what has recently greeted the area, is good news, said Bardsley. He said it would reduce some of the snowpack.
The snowpack as of March 1 is 217 percent of normal, said Jeff Anderson, Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The National Weather Service has advised that flood-prone areas should be prepared for flooding from April through July on the Carson River and April through August on the Walker River.
"The Fort Churchill gauge has already measured a normal water year's worth of flow," said Bardsley. "There's a lot of water in the system."
That's led to the earliest release of water from Lahontan Reservoir, started Feb. 17, and the construction of a weir to add capacity to the system and divert water onto federal land south of Sheckler Reservoir and the Carson Lake area.
"Basically we have two times the amount of water in the reservoir coming our way so we need to swap out the water in the reservoir twice," said Steve Endacott, emergency management director, City of Fallon.
Steve Lewis, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE), led what he called a brainstorming session to take ideas on where the region's excess water might be stored.
The ideas included investigating Kirman Tract, Nature Conservancy's River Fork Ranch and Dangberg Ranch reservoirs in Douglas County and Adrian Valley in Lyon County to longer term solutions such as meadow restoration in the Alpine watershed and floodplain protection throughout the region.
"It's a big goal and a later solution," said John Cobourn, water resource specialist, UNCE, referring to floodplain protection. "It's not going to happen this year, but it's a concept we want to get out to the public. It's a big, long-term project."
On Monday, Sandoval said the Department of Transportation and other state agencies including Emergency Management have done everything possible thus far. He said he is especially concerned about the flooding in Lemmon Valley north of Reno.
There, he said spring runoff could raise the number of impacted homes from about 20 to as many as 200 homes because, "as the snow melts, it's going to flow to this location."
"I'm not trying to scare anybody because I think we've got it under control," he said. "This is costing millions of dollars."
He said that 17,000 tons of sand has been delivered in Lemmon Valley to build a flood barrier.
He said state officials are working with the Army Corps of Engineers to find a solution.
"Out in Lemmon Valley those folks are praying for a miracle and we've got to find a miracle," he said.
NDOT Director Rudy Malfabon told the transportation board they should have U.S. 95 south of Fallon re-opened by the end of the week. He said closure was necessary to install a box culvert to handle the huge amount of water from Lahontan Reservoir he said was eventually going to flood the highway. He said the road to Montello, which was cut off from the world by flood damage in Elko County, has also been re-opened. In addition, he said they are also doing work on Kingsbury Grade, replacing a pipe washed out by flooding, and on the road to Sutcliffe at Pyramid Lake.
NDOT District Engineer Thor Dyson told the governor they are also watching the level of Washoe Lake very carefully. He said at this point experts don't feel like the lake will reach the pavement of I580/US395 through the valley. He said extra water is now being released down Steamboat Ditch, which eventually reaches the Truckee River.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Tuesday he has been assured by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials they will process Nevada's latest request for help dealing with flood damage.
Roy Wright of FEMA made the commitment to Heller during a Senate Banking Committee hearing.
Nevada's first request for help was answered in just three days. The second was sent by Gov. Brian Sandoval and echoed by Heller and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., March 9.