Flood victim sues canal operator, officials

LAS VEGAS - A homeowner whose Northern Nevada home was flooded after a predawn breach of a century-old irrigation canal filed a negligence lawsuit Thursday against the canal's operator, along with local governments and homebuilders.

Judy Kroshus claims she was never told of a December 1996 flood in the Fernley area and local government officials didn't have an adequate emergency response plan in place before she took out a loan and bought a home there in 2002.

Kroshus also blamed the canal operator, the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, for failing to stem the flow of water during a massive Jan. 5 storm, contributing to the canal breach that flooded hundreds of houses.

"Inadequate maintenance of that canal is what resulted in the breach," said Kroshus' lawyer, Robert Hager, after filing the suit in Washoe County District Court in Reno. "The failure to turn off the valve, for three hours after the canal was breached ... greatly increased the quantity of water that was spread throughout the homes."

Ernest Schank, president of the irrigation district, said canal managers responded as quickly as possible to the breach.

"We responded within 20 minutes," he said. "You have to realize that if the canal is full, there's going to be water that continues to come even after you shut it off. We did everything in our power to shut it off immediately."

Kroshus' suit, which seeks class-action status and invites other homeowners to take part, also names as defendants the city of Fernley and Lyon County, along with developers CRCH Ltd. and other real estate developers for failing to notify new buyers of the potential risk.

Brenda Hutchings, whose husband Gary was named in the suit, said she and her husband bought land, developed homes and sold them in the affected area. She said new residents didn't need to be told of the canal.

"Everybody knew the canal was there," she said. "That canal has been running for 104 years. They've never had a major breach in the bank like this."

Homeowners were not required to have flood insurance, she said, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not designate the area a flood plain.

Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler, who was also named as a defendant in the suit, said proper plans were in place and the response to the disaster, including helicopter airlifts for stranded residents, was quick.

"I guess it's easy to start to ask these questions and to be critical," he said. "But I will tell you that everyone who has been involved has just been amazing."

"The majority of our community is standing strong and working to recover and that's the effort right now."


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