Ongoing Flooding Leaves Some Lemmon Valley Residents Underwater (Photos & Video)

Apr 11, 2017

This year’s flooding has left many people in Northern Nevada either displaced or dealing with extensive property damage. But nowhere in the state may be as hard hit as Lemmon Valley.

Residents there have been dealing with a lake that continues to rise. And with more rain in the forecast, there appears to be no end to the flooding.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick checks in with some Lemmon Valley residents to see the impact firsthand.

“I would say it could be four feet or so. I can see it’s definitely come up from the last time we were there.”

Standing on a wall made of sandbags, Dan Musich looks at the front yard of his Lemmon Valley home. He’s spent the last several weeks living with his in-laws in California. The water is still too deep to get close to his house.

He points to a plywood door on the side of his house to show how high the water was last time he visited.

“Well before when we left, the water was right at the bottom,” he says, “but now it looks like it’s close to a foot, which means it’s obviously in the house.”

The house has been in Musich’s family since the 1970s. He and his wife had recently remodeled the interior — and had plans to start on the exterior soon.

Musich says his family tried placing sandbags to stop the flow of water coming over from Swan Lake, which lies just across the street. But the water came too fast.

“It was going to be our retirement place, and we’ve been planning and looking forward to this for a number of years as you can imagine," Musich says. "Now this flood has kind of ruined our plans there. Looks like we’ve got a total loss on our hands. We’ve got to regroup and totally start over.”

Standing at 5 feet even, Linda Walls shows how high the sandbag barrier had to be to protect her property from further flood damage.
Credit Noah Glick

Musich’s neighbor, Linda Wall, says about two feet of water filled her property before officials from the Nevada Division of Forestry built a four-foot tall sandbag barrier and began pumping water out of her yard.

Her house is raised a little higher then her neighbor’s and has so far avoided the worst of the flooding. But the water in the lake continues to rise, threatening her property.

“We can’t live here. I don’t want to live in a lake," Walls says. "We can’t do it.”

Last month, officials installed a five-mile temporary barrier along several low-lying portions of Swan Lake and began pumping water off flooded properties.

But resident Ann Barney says the barrier has actually diverted more water onto her land north of the lake.

“Those of us who happen to be unlucky enough to not be in the area that they consider easy to protect, are just left out there to flood,” she says.

From behind the sandbag barrier on Linda Walls' property, the water level has risen to 2-4 feet. Notice the mailboxes in the distance, which are located just before the roadway.
Credit Noah Glick

Barney, along with other residents, blame the flooding on development which she says sends more drainage down the hill and into the basin.

“The water on those lands that have been raised up and developed will then be added to Swan Lake," Barney says, "and make the water on my property go up even more.”

Dave Solaro with the Washoe County Community Services Department disagrees. 

“My professional opinion is development is not to blame for the flooding out at Swan Lake.”

Solaro says this year’s flooding is a result of a series of storms that have been occurring since October.

While the cause may be up for debate, Solaro says the real issue now is getting funding for a long-term flood mitigation plan. The county doesn’t have the money for a project in Lemmon Valley and would need to obtain federal dollars.

“The federal government won’t even contemplate a project unless the cost-benefit ratio is at least a one," he says. "So what that means is the amount of money you spend is the amount of money in one storm you’re going to mitigate. So if this is a $100 million project, the damage we’re going to mitigate is $100 million in one storm.”

But that line doesn’t sit well with Ann Barney.

“Cost versus benefit ratios…you know, it’s going to cost them more than they think we’re worth,” she says.

The city of Reno is also in the mix, because it has been annexing property in Lemmon Valley over recent years, making it unclear as to who is responsible for damages. But it may be another five or six months before local officials come to residents with long-term plans.

(from left): Linda Walls, Dan Musich and Karen Musich, neighbors in Lemmon Valley, look at their front yards from behind the sandbag barricade on Walls' property. The Musichs' home is surrounded by too deep of water to get close.
Credit Noah Glick

But some residents, like Dan Musich, want answers now. They’re calling for a buyout so they can move on.

“We’re hoping for compensation so we can take whatever we get out of this and buy another home,” Musich says.

And if that doesn’t happen, Musich says the community is prepared to take legal action.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, but people are already talking about class action lawsuits," he says. "I don’t really want to get into that, but if push comes to shove, we do what we have to do.”

The Washoe County Commission met Tuesday, and Reno City Council meets Thursday, but neither have set agenda items to address the ongoing flooding in Lemmon Valley.

Explore more photos and videos from Lemmon Valley below:

The fence line on the Walls' yard shows how high the water level has risen.
Credit Noah Glick

A red tag deeming Linda Walls' home unsafe to occupy sits next to a notice from the Washoe County Health District. "Upon inspection of the property, it was found that flood waters had resulted in unsanitary conditions which included flooding of the wellhead, flooding of the septic sewage disposal system and other flood impacts to the property," says the notice.
Credit Noah Glick

Dan Musich looks toward his property from his neighbor Linda Walls' property.
Credit Noah Glick

Credit Noah Glick

A footbridge make of planks and pallets was constructed to help Linda Walls get into her home to grab belongings.
Credit Noah Glick

Rising water left a distinct mark on Linda Walls' garage, showing how high the levels reached.
Credit Noah Glick

Linda Walls' home (on right) is only one of a handful of properties affected by this year's flooding.
Credit Noah Glick

Algae grows in the standing water alongside the footbridge leading to Linda Walls' property.
Credit Noah Glick