Lemmon Valley Residents Voice Anger Amid Flood Recovery Efforts

Mar 17, 2017

Crews continue to work on flood mitigation and recovery in Lemmon Valley more than two months after the first round of severe storms hit the region.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick reports that while progress is being made, many residents are upset with what they say has been a slow response.

While water sits in lawns and covers roadways in Lemmon Valley, hundreds of residents gathered at O’Brien Middle School this week, many to thank the recovery crew, and many more to voice their anger with Washoe County.

“I think the frustrating thing for me is that they were monitoring it and did nothing about it. And I’m not trying to blame the people doing the work; it’s the people making the decisions.”

Karen Musich asks officials who is going to help her repair her flooded home during a community meeting at O'Brien Middle School Wednesday.
Credit Noah Glick

That’s Karen Musich, who has her home, a rental and a shed on her property, all three of which are flooded.

“You know there’s been a lot of really kind people saying, ‘We’re going to do what we can to get the water out of there.’ But really, it’s so flooded, I don’t see it ever recovering, because our house has been sitting in water for over a month now,” Musich says.

She and her husband planned to retire in that home, which they were remodeling when January’s storms began. She says for the past month, they’ve been staying at her mother’s house in California near the Oroville Dam, an area that also had severe flooding this year.

She wants to get back in her house but just can’t right now.

“There’s no dry land on our property,” she says. “None.”

Washoe County, now with help from the state and federal government, has begun implementing a five-mile long barrier around affected parts of Swan Lake.

An aerial shot of Lemmon Valley shows homes underwater.
Credit State of Nevada

County Manager John Slaughter says officials have been monitoring Lemmon Valley since early January, but they needed engineering support from the state and the Army Corps of Engineers in order to come up with a solution that would avoid creating more problems.

“Even though we’re calling this a short-term plan, this will be in place for several months,” he says. “And we did not want to push water that’s impacting homes in one area, and impact homes in another area.”

Incident Commander Sam Hicks says now that the plan is in place, there are still challenges in implementing it.

The red lines on this map of Swan Lake shows where the barrier will be built.
Credit Noah Glick

“Installing of the barrier is rather simple. The complicated part is the logistics of it,” Hicks says. “There’s over 12,000 yards of material in that system, in the five miles that we have. So getting the material there, getting the equipment there.”

Many residents, like Rhae Testa, are relieved to see some movement.

“I think it’s improved tremendously now that we’ve got the appropriate people in, and it took the governor coming in to make it happen,” she says. “But I think now we’re on the right path.”

But others, like Hester Anderson, say county officials acted too slowly.

“They should have done something six weeks ago, and it wasn’t done. Because they don’t live out here in Lemmon Valley. They live probably in Caughlin Ranch or somewhere fancier.”

During Wednesday’s community meeting, most public comments and questions were pointed at the county. Residents wanted to know why the response was delayed, and who, if anyone is going to help pay for damages.

Dozens of county representatives from various agencies were in attendance to help those affected. Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman, who represents District 5 and Lemmon Valley, was also there but did not answer questions from the community. At one point, Incident Commander Sam Hicks told frustrated residents to talk to their county commissioner.

Commission Chair Bob Lucey was also in the area last week for a press conference and thanked the residents for their patience.

“We’re looking for a long-term solution, but we’re excited about this short-term mitigation plan as we move forward,” he said.

Credit State of Nevada

But in the future, determining who’s responsible for what will be tricky, because as Washoe County Manager John Slaughter explains…

“Lemmon Drive is actually a city of Reno road. It used to be a county road. Beyond that, all of the other homes in Lemmon Valley are currently under the county’s jurisdiction.”

Many of the affected homes are on Lemmon Drive, leaving murkiness to a situation that’s already been taxing for residents like Karen Musich and her neighbors.

“I’m retired and my neighbor’s retired. They don’t have the money to go and buy a new place,” she says.

And whether Musich decides to repair, rebuild or move away, she wants to know who is going to help.

“Well, just the next step is to figure out who’s going to pay for it. Because we can’t live in that house now.”

Crews began pumping water from affected areas Thursday, and officials say they hope to complete the barrier project this weekend.

But the debate over who is responsible for damage payment will most certainly continue long after this cleanup effort.

Update: An earlier version of this story reported that Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman was absent from the community meeting. This has been updated to report that she was present but did not answer questions.