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Report ready on flash flooding

by Christy Chalmers, staff writer

In the summer of 1994, a thunderstorm briefly gave several dozen Johnson Lane-area homes waterfront views.

Six years later, a Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology scientist is ready to put that event into perspective.

“We thought we had just seen the tip of the iceberg, when as a matter of fact that was a pretty good flood event,” says Steve Lewis, director of the University of Nevada’s Cooperative Extension office in Gardnerville. “We’re learning that the danger is probably not as severe as we once envisioned.”

Lewis is referring to the results of a study by Dr. Kyle House of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology that will be presented Thursday night. Lewis said House’s report has not been publicly released, but he and John Cobourn, a water resources specialist who works for the extension, say the results should give valuable insight on managing the flash floods that have periodically hit the Johnson Lane area.

The neighborhood is prone to flooding by the Buckbrush and Johnson Lane washes. To the south, Buckeye Creek pours out of the Pine Nut Mountains.

“We will get a better idea of how these things are expected to act during our lifetime,” said Cobourn, who lives in the area. “We learned on Buckbrush that the floods in the 1990s were large. We’ve learned we probably won’t have anything a whole lot bigger.”

House previously studied the Buckbrush wash. After presenting his conclusions in 1999, he began to focus on the Johnson Lane wash.

Lewis said the latest study showed that of four “significant” floods to occur in the last 800 years, one happened in 1992 and another happened in 1994.

“However, you can’t discount this,” he said. “What we want to do is make sure people understand and respect the hazard that exists.”

That role has been assumed by the Buckbrush Flood Safety Coalition, a group of residents that has been studying ways to mitigate flash flooding dangers. Members have done everything from studying the feasibility of building a structure in the Pine Nuts to divert runoff before it reaches Johnson Lane to distributing fliers asking residents to keep roadside culverts clear.

Lewis and Cobourn said the group is awaiting confirmation of a federal grant that could pay for an early flood warning system for the Johnson Lane area. If the grant is awarded, a system for measuring cloudbursts in the Pine Nuts could be installed. The system would include connections to Douglas County’s emergency communications system, as well as the National Weather Service, allowing both to warn residents of impending floods.

Thursday night’s gathering will include updates on several other projects the group has undertaken. The meeting is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. at the Johnson Lane fire station, 1450 Stephanie Way. For more information, the Gardnerville extension office can be reached at 782-9960.