The winter snows were a big relief for an area suffering a years-long drought.
But could it have been too much of a good thing?
In a recent 2017 Spring Flood Briefing hosted by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, emergency preparedness teams warned of potential flooding due to this season’s snowmelt.
The heavy rainfall and snow in February and March has already caused two federal disaster declarations in the Northern Nevada region and there are fears that as temperatures start to rise, the snowpack in the Sierras will quickly diminish, flowing into and expanding the Walker and Carson River basins.
The National Weather Service recently announced that Lake Tahoe has received 250 percent of its average snowpack, possibly impacting Northern Nevada basins as we go into spring. Although the City of Sparks has had a few flooding incidents, there is no real threat to the Truckee River overflowing at this time.
“We watch the data provided by the US Geographical Service and the National Weather Service through the gages at the Truckee River daily,” says City of Sparks City Manager Steve Driscoll. “There is nothing specific right now that shows any warning, but it is something we monitor constantly.’’
All winter long, the city has been active in observing the amount of water the river receives and then when it reaches a certain level they will communicate any danger to businesses in the industrial area and beyond. Although two sandbag locations were open and available in Sparks last week, a lot of businesses in the industrial area have had sandbags in place since January and most houses were built above the floodplain.
Driscoll says that the city goes into emergency preparedness mode when the river reaches the 13-ft. range around Vista Boulevard. As of 12:30 p.m. on April 17, the river was just running at under 12 feet.
“Tomorrow it is supposed to be at 12.6 feet, at 13 feet we start to take action, and at 15 feet we experience minor flooding,” says Driscoll.
Personally, Driscoll says that ever since moving to Northern Nevada in 1957, he has never experienced a winter weather pattern like this one aside of the 1997 and 2006 high atmospheric river level flood years. The NWS announced that Reno broke a 34-year-old record of rainfall back in February- and the wet season isn’t over yet.
Luckily, the city’s flood mitigation efforts over the last decade have paid off so far- successfully mitigating any potential damage by diverting water exactly where it was supposed to.
“We take the (river) data analysis very seriously and continuously watch the weather report,” Driscoll said. “We got a snow/rain combination over the weekend- snow is always good because we don’t get the runoff.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval said last week the state is sparing no resources to put all hands on deck.
“We have had an unprecedented event and that’s going to require an unprecedented response,” Sandoval said. “Our goal, because we know that water is coming, that is unavoidable, is to make sure that water goes where it can’t harm anybody.”
To residents who arranged sandbags or other types of barriers around their homes and properties during the storms, Sandoval said “you should keep all of that in place.”
Water-resource administrators told the governor they are constantly monitoring numerous reservoirs and dams nearing capacity. Transportation and public safety officers said they are drawing alternate routes for major roadways that could be inundated by flood waters.
They’re especially concerned about potential flooding on the Walker River Reservation and the towns of Yerington, Schurz and Fallon.
Two major water zones east of Lake Tahoe this year have received about 250 percent of their average annual snowpack, according to National Weather Service data presented Thursday.
Carson River Basin could see 239 billion gallons of snowmelt this year and Walker Basin could get 208 billion gallons, according to the service.
For conservation workers, that could mean fighting simultaneous flooding and wildland fires throughout spring and summer.
Reno broke a 34-year-old mark for its wettest year on record back in February — not halfway through the water season that the National Weather Service calculates from October through September.