Judge doesn't allow tests before Fernley canal reopens


Associated Press Writer

RENO - A federal judge on Friday rejected a request by an attorney representing dozens of victims of a Jan. 5 flood in Fernley to conduct tests before the federal government reopens an earthen canal that ruptured and inundated hundreds of homes.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie P. Cooke indicated she could revisit the issue at a March 28 conference after lawyer Robert Maddox tries to reach an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on an inspection.

Maddox represents the owners of about 80 flooded homes in a class-action lawsuit filed in Lyon County District Court in Yerington against the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

He said he wanted his experts to inspect the canal to ensure its safety before it reopens. The reclamation bureau has scheduled a Thursday meeting in Fernley to discuss the canal's reopening.

The bureau owns the 32-mile canal that takes water from the Truckee River south to Fallon-area farmers, while the irrigation district operates and maintains it under a contract with the bureau.

"The irrigation district and bureau of reclamation seem hellbent on delivering water to farmers without proper regard for the safety of residents," Maddox said.

"I'm disappointed she (Cooke) didn't do what we wanted right away. I still think it's an emergency. But we're extremely hopeful we'll eventually be allowed to do the tests," he said.

Greg Addington, a lawyer for the reclamation bureau, said his agency was pleased with the judge's decision because it thought Maddox's request was "overbroad."

Maddox, whose plans had included drilling five feet below the canal's lower edge to ensure its strength, said he now will submit "more specific" testing plans to the bureau.

"That levee is decrepit and not safe and it needs to be made safe," he said, noting past suggestions to line it with cement, reinforce it with sheet steel or send water through pipes instead.

President Bush declared the high-desert town 30 miles east of Reno a national disaster area, making federal relief available to those whose homes were flooded.

More than 500 homes were affected by the flood, Maddox said.

Separate teams of outside experts and government personnel are completing an investigation into what caused the canal to fail.

Officials have speculated about causes, including structural weaknesses in the century-old earthen irrigation canal, rodents burrowing holes in it and unusually heavy rain and runoff. The flood occurred during a potent storm that dumped up to 11 feet of snow in the nearby Sierra Nevada.


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