Hundreds of people in Carson City could be able to drop expensive flood insurance early next year due to a new bypass drainage system that will reorganize flood zones.
About 145 buildings in northwest Carson City will no longer be in areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has designated as being at a high risk for flooding. This includes 28 buildings around Eagle Creek, 58 around Combs Canyon Creek and 59 near the Carson City Airport.
Anyone who has a home or business in these areas must get flood insurance, which can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars a year, if they have a federally backed loan on their building.
FEMA is in the process of updating floodplain maps throughout the country used for reference by governments as well as lenders and insurers. The Carson City map is scheduled to go into effect in January.
The drainage system is part of the city bypass project and the state of Nevada worked with Carson City last year on the $12 million system funded by local, state and federal gas taxes because it helps both Carson City and the state, said Jim Gallegos, the manager of the bypass project for the Nevada Department of Transportation. The department saves money by mitigating the amount of water it has to drain that hits the bypass, he said, while Carson City gets to save its residents money.
"That was a huge benefit to those properties and to the city," he said.
Workers built a system that redirects runoff water into ponds, basins and even Silver Oak Golf Course, making many properties less vulnerable when creeks overflow, flash floods hit or snow from the Sierra Nevada melts too quickly.
All buildings that remain in high-risk flood area have a 26 percent chance of being damaged by a flood during the term of a 30-year mortgage. They represent about 2.5 percent of the buildings in the city.
Steve Mims, manager of the development group that owns the medical center, said his business hasn't had to pay flood insurance because they knew the changes were coming, which he said he is grateful for.
"I've had a house in a floodplain and it's not cheap," he said.
The insurance would still probably cost a building such as the three-story, 75,000-square-foot Eagle Medical Center on North Carson Street thousands of dollars a year if wasn't for the reorganization of the flood areas.
About 30 floods have hit Carson City since 1850, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, with the worst being the 1997 New Year's flood that hit homes, businesses and city infrastructure, causing about $5 million worth of damage.
Carson City manages the risk of flooding and the Carson River well enough to earn residents a 10 percent discount on flood insurance, which is a national program managed by FEMA.
Robb Fellows, the engineer in charge of floodplain management for Carson City, said he sent out notices to some of those affected by the change, like University Heights Apartments, but he pointed also out that almost 40 percent of the high-risk flood area is in open space, which has no buildings on it.
A regional plan for the counties the Carson River runs through " Carson, Lyon, Storey, Churchill and Alpine in California " will also help local governments react to floods in the future and possibly give Carson City a bigger cut on insurance, he said.
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Work that will make it easier for Carson City to tap parts of its water supply is moving along and should be done next year.
The Marlette Lake water system, which draws from Marlette Lake and Hobart Reservoir in the hills west of Carson City, is being updated through a $9.3 million state project that will allow workers to control the system remotely.
Workers have had to hook up the water pump every year to run the system, which is more than 100 years old. The only way they were able to tell how well the water was running was through a pressure gauge and by inspecting the pipe manually, parts of which take a long time to reach, especially in the winter.
The water will be able to be turned on in the spring when the project is done, rather than the summer, and be easily increased to meet summer demands.
"It's night and day," said Mike Leahy, state water systems manager. "The old system was so primitive."
The work has caused water supplies from the system to Carson City to be cut back this year. Carson City, which usually gets about 10 percent of its summer water supply from the system, had its supply cut from 3 million gallons a day to 1 million gallons a day.
The city uses about 25 million gallons of water a day in the summer and 5 millions gallons a day in the winter.
Water comes to Marlette Lake when snow from the Sierra Nevada melts. The water is pumped from the lake to the Hobart Reservoir which is taken by a pipe to the west side of Carson City.
Leahy said the runoff from the mountains fluctuates, but he's never seen a problem with supply. The state isn't allowed to drop the level of the lake more than 3 feet because of concerns about the fish.
The upgrade project is being funded mostly from Carson City water rates and fees.