Federal Project Impact money pays for city's storm drainage game plan

Carson City will take a giant leap by the start of next year to put a battle plan in place to attack the many storm drainage threats in the city.

In the next few months, city engineers and the local engineering firm Lumos and Associates will also come up with a way to pay for the massive storm drainage program.

This could be impact fees, bonds or continued use of general funds. But the most-discussed option so far has been establishing a storm drainage utility - much like sending out a water or electricity bill.

The earliest cost estimates for flood control range from $9 million to $30 million, and that just covers Ash and Kings canyons.

Quite quickly, storm drainage will evolve from a disjointed effort to deal with individual problems as they arise to a comprehensive program addressing all the city's canyon drainage threats.

"We've been looking at localized solutions only," said Mahmood Azad, the city's engineering manager. "Now we're looking regionally. We will see how the little pipe on the street fits into the big picture. That's the kind of information (Lumos) will distill down. Here's the problem and here's the solution."

The Carson City Board of Supervisors contracted with Lumos and Associates on Aug. 17 to establish a storm drainage management program. The $80,000 contract will develop an action plan and a funding mechanism.

Project manager Paul Lumos expects to have a preliminary report for the supervisors in November. He plans to present an ordinance in January for supervisor approval.

This will establish a specific city organization for storm drainage, a specialty that currently is a stepchild of sorts handled by the streets and utilities departments.

Lumos engineers will use the field work being done by WRC Nevada, a Reno hydrology firm that is analyzing the water and mud flow potentials of each canyon that drains into the city. WRC Nevada under project manager Mark Forest will also undertake storm drainage engineering - the types of pipes and dams that will be needed to fill the parameters determined by Lumos.

Previous WRC work detailed Kings and Ash canyons as well as the northwest canyons where storm drainage work is underway with bypass construction. WRC's present $17,000 contract will determine the flows primarily in Vicee, Voltaire and Goni canyons and the remaining drainages, mostly on Prison Hill. This will also include more flow studies at Ash and Kings, Azad said.

The city will use $115,000 in federal Project Impact money and $90,000 from the city's general fund to define the storm water program and how to pay for the dams and pipes that will cost in the 10s of millions of dollars.

Project Impact was launched in 1997 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to encourage public-private partnerships to assess potential disaster problems and find ways to prevent or limit damage before disasters occur.

Carson City received $300,000, which were split into four projects determined by the city's Emergency Management Advisory Committee. Storm drainage gets the largest amount with school safety allocated $90,000, public education getting $30,000 and a temporary animal shelter budgeted for $15,000.

"This is seed money for long-term commitments to local involvement," said Liz Watson, the city's Project Impact coordinator. "What's going to come out of it is an assessment and awareness and the beginning of some ongoing programs."

Carson City has fairly recent reminders from the floods of 1986 and 1997. Azad ranks the New Year's Flood of 1997 as a 25-year event. The storm drainage system in place now can handle only a 2.5-year event before water starts spilling onto the streets, Azad said.

A primary component in storm drain management planning will involve agreeing to how much flood protection is wanted. Should the new system harness 5-, 10-, 25-, 50- or 100-year floods?

Azad purposely uses the word "harness" rather than control. Harness costs less but still should provide flood protection.

The preliminary notion calls for detention basins at the base of canyons and pipes to drain those basins toward the Carson River.

The city has already spent $150,000 to design storm drainage systems for Eagle Canyon, Silver Oak, Timberline, Coombs Canyon and the current detention basin under construction at Shenandoah Heights. All these are part of the bypass project and will be reimbursed by the state, Azad said.

Before major dam and pipe projects start on the west side, the Lumos team will look ahead and back. They will review the storm drainage system in the ground now and they will dust off a 1983 storm drainage effort that was abandoned halfway through planning.

"First we need to design a storm water program. What is it?" said Lumos, who was involved in the 1983 effort.

Also involved in 1983 was Hector Cyre of Water Resource Associates of Seattle. Back then, Cyre had established 12 storm water utilities, a total that had grown to more than 120 by the time Lumos brought him aboard for Carson City's second attempt.

Lumos in the coming months will identify the key policy issues: program mission and priorities, level of protection, funding philosophy and how to communicate all this to gain public support.

Azad said many of the major decisions will be community driven. Coming months will have a serious of public meetings where input will be used to determine how well protected residents want to be and how much they are willing to pay.

Storm drainage utility bills typical run between $2 to $9 per month for a residence.

Along with Project Impact and city funding, the Carson Water Subconservancy District has earmarked $400,000 over four years (starting last year) for storm drainage in Carson City.

The city has used $60,000 for a preliminary study on Ash and Kings canyon creeks that has outlined two small projects: stabilize the lower Ash creek so it doesn't produce as much sediment and stabilize the upper Ash creek so it doesn't jump its banks.


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