Interview: Truckee River Flood Project Preps For Major Storm

Feb 23, 2016

Credit Nick Ares / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Truckee River Flood Management Authority recently received $1.75 million dollars to create a flood plan for the region. Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick sat down with their executive director, Jay Aldean, to discuss what that means.

One of his biggest tasks for Aldean and his agency is planning and building infrastructure that will protect the region from major storms and flooding.

The endeavor, officially known as the Truckee River Flood Project, has a variety of elements to it.

“It begins with replacing bridges downtown and reworking Riverside Drive,” Aldean says, “and then building flood walls and levees. The full area is really the Truckee River. We don’t extend into Sparks; we don’t extend south, way down into southern Washoe County.”

Although work on the plan is already underway, Aldean says the agency doesn’t handle community storm preparations.

“Those would come from the various entities where you belong. So if you live in Washoe County, you would go to that community for suggestions,” he says. “All we do is plan a project and try to figure out a way to get it funded.”

Getting that funding means working with the Army Corps of Engineers (CoE), which must approve any flood project. But Aldean says his agency is hoping to improve upon the CoE’s plan.

“The Corps of Engineers did their plan and it’s called the 50-year plan; basically a two percent chance storm of occurring in any year. That is not as big of a storm as we would like to protect the community from,” he says. “So we came up with our own individual 100-year plan. It’s basically sized for a bigger storm, greater impact, and it has higher levees and higher flood walls that afford that greater protection.”

Aldean says the minimum level of protection across the United States is usually the 100-year storm event. But, there’s also a big incentive to residents.

“FEMA regulates flood plains to a 100-year map. So if you’re outside of a 100-year flood plain, your insurance is cheaper,” he says. “For example, a home in Hidden Valley, they pay insurance of about $2,400 annually. When we elevate their house and it’s out of the flood plain, it’ll go down to $200 annually.”

The Truckee River Flood Project is receiving $1.75 million in federal money. But, it’s not funding in the usual sense.

“It’s not really a grant we got from Senator Reid,” Aldean says. “He influenced the decision of the Corps, so that they would put money into the line item for our project.”

The last major storm event that rocked the Reno area happened nearly 20 years ago, in 1997. Aldean says we’re due for another big one.

“How likely are we to see an event like that or greater than that? Very likely, in the next 50 years. We’ve had a number of big floods, so to see another one in the next 50 years; I’d almost guarantee that it’ll occur.”

Which brings us to this year. We’ve seen one of the biggest El Niño systems on record come through the region. What does that do for our chances of seeing a big storm?

“Surprisingly, El Niño has nothing to do with our storm events,” Aldean says. “They always occur on the La Niña side, or in the neutral side. My guess is we’re not going to have a storm this year.”

But that doesn’t mean that we’re out of the water.

“We never get beyond 15-17 years before we have another event—and we’re there.”

Aldean says that even if he had all the funding he needed to build the Truckee River Flood Project, it wouldn’t get done before the next storm event. Construction of the 100-year plan, he says, would take 10-12 years.