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Army Errors Push Reno-Sparks Flood Plan Back Again

Fri March 05, 2010 - West Edition
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RENO, Nev. (AP) An ongoing effort to step up flood protection in the Reno-Sparks area is turning into a bit of a disaster itself.

City officials said errors that were made while rushing through a flood plan for the Truckee River will delay congressional approval by another year. That means local residents could suffer through another significant flood like the one that caused nearly $800 million in damage in January 1997 before the project is ever built.

“This keeps moving back,” said Ron Smith, a Sparks councilman who serves on a local coalition pursuing the flood project.

“We’ve got a lot of risk out there, and this is unacceptable,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Roger Henderson, the project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the latest problem stemmed from a series of errors made in hydraulic models for the government’s proposal. The Corps intends to hire consultants to fix the problem by next September, a process that should delay congressional authorization until at least 2012, he said.

Trying to rush the process was part of the latest problem, Henderson said.

“We took a lot of short cuts, and there were risks, and for some reason, the risks didn’t work out for us,” he said. “If I’m going to give you a delay, I want this to be the last delay.”

Any delay is a potentially serious problem, said Washoe County Commissioner Bob Larkin, who chairs the flood panel.

“Every minute now that we procrastinate, we delay, brings us closer to the next event,” Larkin said. “And the next event won’t be a little event. It will be catastrophic to this community.”

Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, whose city’s industrial area is among the most at risk from floods, said future floods are inevitable before the project is completed. Once approved, construction of the entire project is expected to take 10 to 15 years.

“We’ll definitely flood before we get this done, maybe repeatedly,” Martini said.

As the federal review continues, local government agencies continue to build components of the larger flood strategy with local funds. Multimillion-dollar projects completed or under way include construction of a levee and floodwall protecting the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and restoration of downstream stretches of the Truckee River at the Mustang and 102 ranches and at Lockwood.

Local officials have discussed the possibility of separating from the Army Corps and building whatever flood protections are possible with local funding alone.

But because well-intentioned changes made by the federal government to the Truckee River decades ago are largely responsible for problems with the river today, some federal role is clearly justified, Larkin said.

“The Army Corps of Engineers caused this problem in the beginning,” Larkin said. “The question becomes just how much participation the federal government should have in fixing a problem they caused.”

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