Gov. Brian Sandoval visited Churchill County on Friday on a fact-finding trip to learn more about flood mitigation efforts in the Lahontan Valley.
Local officials briefed the governor on the work being done to lessen the flood danger from water dispersed from Lahontan Reservoir west of Fallon. The spring runoff will come from the melting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and down the Carson River toward the reservoir and eventually through the Lahontan Valley. Churchill County Commissioner Pete Olsen explained in a timeline the steps the county, city, state and Bureau of Reclamation have taken during the past two months to prevent flooding along the Carson River.
FORESIGHT OF FLOODING
Earlier this month Churchill County and the city of Fallon declared a state of emergency to allow local agencies to maximize resources available from the state. One of the first steps focused on the Carson River from the Lahontan Dam to Bafford Lane east of Fallon.
“We had as many as seven excavators clearing the river,” Olsen said, adding crews cleaned out debris that could cause water to back up and overflow its banks.
So far, Olsen said water has stayed within its banks since crews cleared the river channel. He also said scores of homeowners received thousands of sandbags to protect their homes and businesses. Under the direction of the Churchill County Parks and Recreation Department, Olsen said both staff and volunteers filled 200,000 sandbags and delivered half that amount.
“That’s just great government and great people working together,” Sandoval said, noting how students from the high-school band also pitched in to fill sandbags.
The projected forecast issued in January for the spring runoff, though, worried city and county officials as well as the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District and Reclamation because of record snowfall being recorded in the higher elevations. The county wheeled into action and began working with other agencies, a step lauded by Sandoval.
“This shows what happens when government can work together,” Sandoval said.
Both Olsen and Rusty Jardine, TCID’s general manager and legal counsel, explained how the irrigation district worked with the state and Reclamation to begin releasing water from the reservoir.
Then, TCID, county road crews and several out-of-state construction firms began to construct an emergency weir and spillway on the V-line canal, which delivers water to the other canals. From start to finish, construction took several weeks to complete, thus giving TCID another outlet to divert water down a channel and to Sheckler Reservoir and an adjacent Navy training range.
“Everyone knew how much water we had and what’s expected to come,” Olsen said.
Jardine said there’s enough water content in the Sierra snowpack to fill two more reservoirs the size of Lahontan, a concern that worries officials at every level of the decision-making process. The Lahontan Reservoir’s capacity is 295,500 acre-feet and is currently 70,000 acre-feet below that level. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons of water and covers one acre of land at 1-foot deep.
Since February, Jardine said TCID has reduced the storage level in Lahontan Reservoir to take in more water from the Carson River and released almost 100,000 acre-feet of water into the canals, the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, the V-line spillway and weir and the Carson Sink.
“This water in the Carson (river) is going to the sink and not coming back,” Jardine added.
Sandoval liked the progressive action being taken in Churchill County.
“Think about it,” said the governor, “if we had done nothing and just waited for something bad to happen, you and I would be standing in 3 feet of water.”
THE FRUITS OF PLANNING
After the meeting, Sandoval received a tour of the spillway and saw how water is being channeled from the V-line canal to the desert. Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford said all the agencies are meeting every step of preparation ahead of time. Retired sheriff and current incident commander Bill Lawry told the governor he hasn’t seen this much water since the spring of 1983 when Churchill County experienced extensive flooding in the low-lying areas and the Nevada National Guard was called out.
Although the catastrophic floods during December and January of 1996-97 flooded Reno, Fallon wasn’t affected. Neither did flooding over the holiday season in 2005.
The cooler weather for the past week has also given TCID a reprieve. It enabled the irrigation district to shore up the spillway’s banks with additional cement to prevent crumbling into the channel and to repair a damaged concrete section from one of the dam’s outlet tubes. Crews removed and repaired the concrete and reattached it prior to an inspection on Thursday.
A delay, though, has slowed any release of water for at least several days. TCID stated concrete never met strength requirements and was removed Sunday and will be re-poured Tuesday. Jardine predicts TCID could begin releasing up to 2,450 cubic feet per second from the reservoir with up to 1,400 cfs going to the V-line and 1,000 cfs into the Carson River after TCID receives approval. Cfs refers to the rate that water flows and equals about 450 gallons of water flowing in one minute.
With the prospect of thousands of acre-feet of water flowing into the desert, Jardine said county road departments dug out ditches and a north-south canal to ensure debris didn’t impede the water’s flow down the western side of the valley and then eventually veer across the southern part toward U.S. Highway 95.
Jardine said several south valley properties could be in danger as water rises, but TCID and the county’s Emergency Operations Center are constantly monitoring the water’s progression and will take appropriate steps to notify landowners.
To help the water flow under the highway and to the Carson Lake wetlands south of the Greenhead Hunting Club, the Nevada Department of Transportation awarded a contract to Ames Construction for the installation of four concrete triple-box drainage culverts 12 miles south of Fallon. Olsen said the work was done in less than a week.
“NDOT and all crews involved did fantastic work,” Olsen added.
NDOT will also begin work on Monday to construct culverts on U.S. Highway 50 between Wildes Road and Macari Lane east of Fallon.
“To support upcoming local agency enhancements to the Lower Diagonal Drain, we are right now developing plans to enhance the drainage culvert which carries the channel underneath U.S. 50,” said NDOT spokesperson Meg Ragonese in an email to the LVN. “As we finalize plans for these drainage improvements, we will also be looking to do all possible to reduce travel impacts and any potential highway closures for drivers on U.S. 50.”
Sandoval assured everyone at the briefing the state has assets to assist local officials. He said the challenge is banding together to get the preparation right. The governor lauded officials for their foresight.
“The credit goes to you all,” he said.