What’s Next For Truckee River Flood Prevention?

Mar 23, 2017

Northern Nevada saw historic amounts of precipitation this water season, leaving many low-lying areas flooded and many higher elevations buried in snow. And experts warn that increasing population and development can open up opportunities for more damage if water is not properly managed.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick recently spoke with Jay Aldean, the Executive Director for the Truckee River Flood Management Authority, to see how the Truckee River—and the region as a whole—handled this year’s severe weather.

KUNR: Last time we spoke, you mentioned the region is due for a big flood event. So what was this year? This was a big flood event, right?

Aldean: Well, it was certainly was a big water year event. A lot of people think of it as a flood event. Even though we had a significant rain in January, it only measured up to what we call a 40-year storm event. Unless it gets to be a 50-year storm event, somewhere between 50-100, I don’t consider it a major flood. I consider it minor flooding.

But flooding can occur a number of different ways. You can be flooded by a river overflowing. You can also be flooded by volume, too much volume. We have had storm after storm after storm this year and everyone has contributed, even if it’s just a minor rain.

Your work with the Truckee River Flood Project, the main purpose of that is to help the urban communities and protect property. Is that the main goal?

Well in a roundabout way, we are a planning agency to conceptualize, plan, design and build a project that will include flood facilities that protect all the flooding that comes from the Truckee River. So the commercial areas around Sparks, the commercial area in Reno, the airport—that’s a biggie—that’s what our job is. And we’ve got a plan that will actually do that. It’s a $400 million plan and our next steps are how to try to figure out how to pay for that.

We partnered through a very long process with the Corps of Engineers to try to get them to approve a project that we would build. What they were able to do in 2014, [they] passed their plan to Congress, which basically authorized $180 million for us to spend. It’s not a guarantee throughout all the rest of the future. We have to demonstrate to the corps that we can raise our share of that project. And upon doing that, we’ll start getting appropriations.

So, we have to come up with $275 million basically.

We don’t want to build it in a 100-year stretch; we want to build it in a ten-year stretch. And in order to do that, we need about $25-30 million a year. If we did enact a fee for those who directly benefit, that would probably only raise $2.5. So we still have a shortfall as you can see.

So is it a matter of coming to the voters as well to potentially add a tax increase or anything like that? Or is it more looking at businesses and that sort of thing?

What the board has elected to do, back in 2016, they were thinking about putting a tax question on the ballot, but they didn’t want it to go opposite the school district. Now they’re going to move to create a committee and that committee will look at all the various alternative revenue sources, they’ll recommend a question that will go on the ballot in 2018.

From what you’ve said, this is not necessarily a major flood event. But what are some of the lessons we can learn from this?

It shows you that trying to protect the whole region from flooding is a huge undertaking.

I would just say that trying to alleviate all the flooding problems that we could possibly have is more money than we’re asking the voters for in 2018. But I think it’s now time to start the conversation and try to figure out how we’re going to handle that.