Flood management agencies agree to work together | NevadaAppeal.com

Flood management agencies agree to work together

Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Published Caption: From left: John E. Sciacca, Robert K. Hartman, Christopher B. Smith, Drew Savage, Jason King, Alicia E. Kirchner and Bruce Peterson.

When the left hand of government does not know what the right hand is doing, sitcoms and tragedies are born. A new partnership between federal and state agencies aims to let both hands know what the other is doing.

The collaboration is called the Nevada Silver Jackets and is a meeting of agencies twice a year to talk about flood risk management.

On Nov. 8, federal and state agencies signed the charter for the Nevada Silver Jackets, codifying the relationship. By signing the charter, the groups agreed to sit down two times a year to network, learn and coordinate.

“Sometimes we (federal agencies) don’t talk to each other,” said Judy Soutiere, regional flood risk program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

When agencies choose to communicate, they all find a wealth of information, data and knowledge in each other, she said.

Federal and state agencies often collect the same types of data, from topography to water marks and water flows.

“Why should I go out and gather it if you go out and gather it in the same area?” Soutiere asked.

With federal government funds shrinking, the simple act of working together is a way for agencies big and small to fund and complete projects and to avoid competing for limited federal budget dollars.

“We’re talking to other federal agencies so we’re not all asking for the same money,” Soutiere said.

The meetings have two major purposes. The first is to help agencies share information, resources and knowledge with one another. The second is a concept highlighted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling it.

“The concept is, make a friend before you need a friend,” Soutiere said.

Nevada’s Floodplain Manager, Kim Davis, is one of those friends.

The next time a major flood hits, Davis knows most of the major relationships with the federal, state and often times local agencies will already be in place.

She said, “hit the ground running after a disaster,” is the goal.

With only five meetings under their belt, the Silver Jackets still have a long way to go.

“We’ve been in a phase of learning about each other” and each other’s limitations and jurisdictions, Davis said. While all the agencies have learned something new, some of the feds have realized what conditions in Nevada are.

“I noticed light bulbs going off, especially with the federal agencies,” she said.

Steve Berris is the Nevada data chief for the United States Geological Survey and with a title like that, he is all about the free flow of information. Berris and the USGS collect vast amounts of data, much of which can be useful to other agencies. Often, agencies do not know Berris’ data is available. The data itself, while important, is not everything. The key is how it’s used.

“We can leverage resources to get something better,” he said.

By combining the data collected by the various agencies, better maps and predictions can be made, such as how flooded an area will be at a given water flow rate, he said.

Although sharing data is one way to pool resources, the other is to share knowledge of what each agency can do – saving money and resources.

The state agencies that signed the charter are: Nevada State Engineer, which includes the Nevada Division of Water Resources, and the Nevada Department of Public Safety. The federal agencies are the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the USGS and the US Army Cops of Engineers.