Fernley Flood Five years later: City, county upgrade emergency system
January 6, 2013
Five years ago, the city of Fernley was struck by one of the largest disasters in its history.At 4:19 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2008, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office received its first flood call from a resident on Blue Opal Court. More than 800 homes were flooded and at least 1,500 people were evacuated. No injuries or fatalities were reported in the aftermath of the flood. Water stormed Fernley after a breach in the Truckee Canal, which officials at the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District said was caused by rodents burrowing in the embankments.The breach occurred at a spot south of Cottonwood Lane, leaving a hole in the canal visible across a field from Cottonwood Lane and Red Hawk Drive. The break was 100 long and 20 feet wide, former TCID Project Manager Dave Overvold said the day of the flood, and the water was 4 feet deep in some places.A rainstorm on Jan. 4 increased flow levels of the Truckee River to 2,700 cubic-feet per second at Vista and TCID was diverting 350 cfs. Former President George W. Bush and former Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons both declared the area a disaster, and former President Bill Clinton visited the area on Jan. 6 on his way to Fallon to give a speech for his wife, Hillary.Fernley movesforwardCurrent Fernley Mayor LeRoy Goodman said initial damages were staggering, but he said the actions of numerous agencies — local, state and federal — played a key role in the city’s recovery. In addition, Goodman praised former city Emergency Manager Jeff Page’s contributions.Goodman, a Lyon County commissioner at the time of the flood, said a master plan has been initiated by the city to determine what agencies and personnel react to various disasters.On the day of the flood, no such plans were in place, although city crews aided by agencies from Fallon, Reno and other cities assisted in flood efforts.“We have that mechanism in place,” he said. “We have better internal management.”Goodman said Page worked tirelessly to upgrade the city’s communication structure and added social media to aid updates for any future incidents.Despite the city’s efforts, Goodman said it is still a priority for residents to familiarize themselves with the area. He recalled one resident who moved to Fernley and did not realize the canal was nearby. And that was not the only instance.“I’m flabbergasted at that,” Goodman said. “We have to get more information out and educate the public. It was an eye-opener.”Following the flood, lawsuits were levied against the city and eventually settled, Goodman said. Despite the settlement, Goodman said the city is holding its own and is looking toward the future.“I think it made for a stronger community,” he explained. “There is a can-do attitude with the city and our residents.”Filing lawsuitAs a result of the flood, Fernley resident Judy Kroshus filed a class-action lawsuit against TCID, TCID Board of Directors, the city of Fernley, Lyon County, developer CRCH Ltd. and other real estate developers.Kroshus claimed she was never told of the December 1996 flood in Fernley and local officials did not have an adequate plan in place before she took out a loan and bought a home in 2002.In addition, all TCID board members were individually sued as well as former Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler. All of the defendants except TCID and the TCID Board of Directors at the time of the flood were dismissed from the complaint, according to an official at the Third Judicial District Court in Yerington, where the lawsuit was filed.TCID’s claims of rodent nesting or burrowing were shot down in July 2012 after a jury in the Third Judicial District Court found the district negligent in maintenance was the cause for the breach.The next step in the litigation will be a separate jury trial in August, where a new jury will be seated and hear evidence of all the issues and may award damages. The outcome could hit TCID and the other defendants with millions of dollars in restitution to flood victims.TCID, though, said the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the canal, did not inform TCID of studies involving internal erosion.According to a previous report, TCID attorney William Doyle said, “Yet it is their report (BOR) the Plaintiff relies on, claiming that the failure to monitor and correct muskrat holes was the cause of this breach. The evidence will be that TCID properly, reasonably maintained this canal, and that they properly and reasonably operated it on the night of this storm, and that they were not negligent.”The victims’ attorney, Robert Maddox, said the evidence will show the embankment failed due to a “combination of the rodent burrows.” In addition, Maddox said TCID’s failure to repair the holes, combined with the “rapid ramping of the flow of water” on Jan. 4, 2008, lead to the breach.Maddox also said TCID knew the repairs were needed after reports from the BOR disclosed those facts. TCID, according to the plaintiffs, complained to the BOR about repairing the erosion, rodent holes, piping leaks and removing wooden vegetation.Doyle, however, told the jury of a 2007 BOR report to TCID that concluded the district was doing a “good job in the operating and maintaining the delivery system.”Fixing the canalSince the flood, construction efforts from TCID and the BOR along the canal have been ongoing.The district recently completed a $2.7 million rehabilitation project in May 2012, which included reducing 33 conduits to 17. Many of the conduits were original structures dating back to 1913.The 17 conduits are new and construction also involved repair to the canal consisting of placement of specialized zones of embankment material.As TCID and the BOR move forward, another obstacle lies ahead. The BOR will release its Truckee Canal Planning Study, which will assess flow levels in the canal.The study is a projection of canal flows of 150 cubic-feet per second, 250 cfs and 350 cfs and to determine the stability of the canal at each level. It was approved by Congress and funded through Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009.Members of the public will be able to comment on the study in Fallon in January, although no specific date has been announced.TCID, meanwhile, was ordered by a federal court to reduce flows to 350 cfs after the 2008 Fernley Flood.