Recent rains swell Washoe Lake; flooding is not a worry, for now
December 1, 2017
Recent rains have again raised the level of Washoe Lake and, while NDOT engineers say there are no immediate flood concerns that is a definite possibility if western Nevada has another heavy winter.
A spokesman said the lake level still is well below the lowest point of U.S. 395 through Washoe Valley — just north of Bellevue Bridge — despite several days of rain.
NDOT officials say that, if western Nevada gets another winter like the last one, the waters could very well reach the freeway that connects Reno and Carson City.
Last winter was the wettest on record and NDOT spokesman Meg Ragonese said it didn't flood the road.
But last winter started with Washoe Lake much lower than it is now.
"At this point, we have a lake that's very full and we're just starting winter," she said.
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Ragonese said NDOT hydraulic engineers and maintenance crews will be closely monitoring the lake level this winter.
She said maintenance crews also are routinely clearing the dozen drainage culverts that allow water on the west side of I-580 to pass beneath the freeway and into the lake. She said if they aren't kept clear, water could back up against the freeway and flood not only the road but west side homes and ranch properties.
While NDOT officials are wary, keeping a close eye on the lake level, Washoe Lake Park Supervisor Jennifer Dawson has been thoroughly enjoying the water this year.
After several years of drought that left the lake bone dry before last winter, she said the park had its best year ever.
"We had an excellent summer," she said. "It's the best we've ever had visitation-wise."
Dawson said the campgrounds were full even in the last week of October, "which is unreal."
"We definitely welcomed the hustle and bustle, seeing people out there having fun," she said.
Dawson said the lake has enough water now that, even if this is a mild, relatively dry winter, they will have water to support camping, fishing and other recreational activities for several years.
The vast majority of the flow into the lake comes from a dozen or so small streams that feed the lake from the west side mountains, some so small they aren't even named and most of which are dry at least part of the year. The largest on the list are Franktown, Ophir and Winters creeks.
There are 12 triangular shaped concrete culverts that carry the water under the freeway and into the lake. One of the jobs NDOT crews have done on a regular basis through last winter and this summer is to clean the brush and debris out of those culverts so the water can get through.
Dawson said there are also at least three tiny streams that come in from the Virginia Range on the east side of Washoe Lake including Deadman's Creek which flows most of the year.
Once in the lake, the water has just one exit — Steamboat Creek at the northwest corner of Little Washoe Lake. But officials say the majority of the water that leaves the lake does so by evaporation.
NDOT's hydraulic engineers and roadway maintenance crews are monitoring the lake level, working with water rights owners to keep the road clear and in business even if western Nevada has another heavy winter.
Ragonese said if that occurs, it's important to know that NDOT has flood mitigation plans in place if they're needed.
Those plans, she said, "detail what we specifically would do if it goes reach the roadway."
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