Water flows at ‘Promontory Point’ (update)
Local officials praised city and county workers along with volunteers and state and federal agencies who spent countless hours and days digging out a 17-mile channel that is now carrying water from the Carson Lake to the Carson Sink via the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.
From its inception almost two months ago to the final chunk of dirt being removed Wednesday to allow water to flow freely, the six-week “Big Dig” project culminated in one platitude after another of thanking the heavy machine operators and the Farmer Brigade for putting their community ahead of themselves.
“They took this personally. This was their community,” said Churchill County Commission Chairman Pete Olsen. “They worked their hearts out.”
Six weeks ago, crews from the Truckee Carson Irrigation District, Churchill County Road Department and the city of Fallon began digging a 60-foot wide, 15-foot deep channel to bring water from the Carson Lake area. The channel traveresed under four recently installed drainage culverts that the Nevada Department of Transportation and Granite Construction installed on U.S. Highway 50 two miles south of Wildes Road.
A ceremony to recognize the completion occurred at noon at the Lower Diagonal Drain east of U.S. Highway 50. After speeches from Olsen, Mayor Ken Tedford, EOC (emergency operations center) Incident Commander Bill Lawry and Ernie Schank, president of the Truckee Carson Irrigation District Board of Directors, a huge, yellow excavator wheeled into action shortly before 1 p.m., taking a half-dozen swipes at the dirt before opening a channel to allow fast-moving, brown water to enter the channel.
During the overall project, though, a set of workers began digging out the channel from Carson Lake and headed east, while the second contingent of workers began at Stillwater and headed east. The Lower Diagonal Drain served as the promontory point.
Congressman Mark Amodei, R-CD2, also attended the ceremony on one of the warmest days of spring in the Lahontan Valley. Tedford said he was in constant communication with Amodei, and the congressman offered assistance if the local government agencies needed help. As with many officials from the local agencies, the state, the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they all had a major part in the success of the “Big Dig.”
During the operations at the “Big Dig,” agencies used 10 large excavators, two bulldozers, eight tractor/scrapers, and two blades and relied on more than 20,000 man hours to move more than 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt. In addition the Farmer Brigade, which stood up in 2008 to repair a breach at the Lewis Spillway on Casey Road, volunteered in mass by bringing their tractors, trucks and other equipment to scape off the overburden, material that lies above an area that lends itself to economical exploitation, such as the rock, soil and ecosystem that lies above a given area.
“What we did was take as much of the overburden as we could and go deep as much as we could so the excavators could then go to work digging,” said rancher Thaine Ernst of the Farmer Brigade.
Tedford thanked both Gov. Brian Sandoval, who sent a letter to be read, and the State of Nevada’s Department of Emergency Management and Director Caleb Cage for assisting with the heavy equipment. Olsen also thanked the state.
“Many times through this crisis, we have asked (for assistance) and their answer was yes or let us get back to you … and when they did, the answer was yes,” Olsen said. “They were here in our time of need.”
After the ceremony and before the “plug” (a soft dirt dam) was removed to allow the flow of water, guests gave a rousing applause to the workers who dedicated their time in typical Churchill County spring weather of blowing dust, rain, snow flurries, freezing nighttime temperatures and 80-degree days.
Mike Whitaker, who operated an excavator for the county, worked 12-hour days, seven days a week for two weeks. He said digging out the mud was difficult, but the Farmer Brigade with its graders and tractors made work easier.
“It was a busy job,” Whitaker said. “I was pressing myself, but I thought we had a long ways to go.”
Standing near Whitaker was TCID’s Jeremy Martinez, who worked an excavator and bulldozer and hauled equipment.
“Sometimes, there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But when I saw the two ditches coming together, it was worth it. It couldn’t be done without everyone’s help.
Martinez said no one was injured with the amount of work being done.
Karl Zulz, a foreman with the Churchill County Roads Department, oversaw the day shift.
“The cooperation between the entities was just amazing,” he said. “We hit the ground running.”
Not only did Zulz ensure the digging was going smoothly, but he also jumped on an excavator or bulldozer, doing whatever it took to get the job done.
“This was one of the biggest — if not biggest projects,” he said, adding the department hasn’t done a major project like that. “We have done bridge replacements and things of that sort, but this tops it.”
Zulz’s counterpart, Night Foreman Jody Joanette, said workers had a challenge once the sun went down and tower lights illuminated the area.
“The main thing at night is keeping the grade,” he said. “Most of the guys did well after adjusting.”
Joanette said the lack of lighting, which was spread out along the “Big Dig,” made life interesting for the operators.
“It was hard seeing what you were doing, especially with a 9-to-10-foot grade below you,” he said.
Joanette, though, said — with a satisified look — “this was the project of a lifetime.”
Ryan Swirzcek, the city’s public works director, said the “Big Dig” was a great tasks that brought agencies together.
“In my tenure with the city, I never saw all agencies come together and work this closely together,” he added.
Ernst has worked the lands of Churchill County for many years. After a month of guiding the valley’s farmers and ranchers with the digging, he was ready to return to his property.
“We were here for the community, but we’re behind,” he said of working on their own land, “Now, we’ll get back and caught up.”
Ernst said the past month has been challenging, especially with equipment operating 24 hours a day, maintaining the upkeep and staying on top of the logistics for fuel and parts became a challenge.
Since January when snow pounded the Sierra Nevada, water officials and meteorologists with the National Weather Service became concerned with the usually heavy snowpack. By February, worries arose about the water content of the snowpack containing the equivalent amount of water to fill three Lahontan Reservoirs.
TCID made a determination to begin drawing down the reservoir to allow for more water storage. In March the county, TCID and other contractors installed an emergency spillway and weir off the V-line canal to channel water to Sheckler Reservoir and the Navy’s Bravo 16 training range and down the west side of the valley.
Tedford and Olsen both mentioned NDOT installed 12 culverts at four locations under U.S. Highway 95 to allow the water flow into Carson Lake. TCID also constructed a 1.5-mile, 6-foot high dike to protect homes in the area. Crews also dug a temporary channel on the west side of the Bafford Lane bridge to allow more room for the Carson River.
Officials said the threat of potential flooding will remain throughout the summer, but they hope their efforts will be successful. While everyone said thank you to the workers, Schank had two words expressing his feelings: Cooperation and group effort.
Then he told of a saying he remembered from his grandfather: “Many hands make light work.”