Class-Action Suit: Thursday 6/13

This is still the plaintiff’s part of the case.  Things started off with Judge Breslow deciding in favor of the defense (Reno) that discussing the housing market and regional economic conditions are admissible.  The judge admonished Reno’s lead attorney, Karl Hall, for posting information on his Facebook page.  He blamed someone on his staff.  Apparently, it was pretty innocuous and mainly a link to local news coverage.  The judge insisted that “less is more” in this case.

Luke Busby called Jeff Johnson Sr. back to the stand.  The discussed leakage through the Hesco barriers, and problems with his septic system after the flood receded.  His property has been flooded since April 2017.  There was no cross-examination.

Kerry Doyle called Donna Robinson to the stand to discuss her situation caused by the flooding.  She’s a retired Reno police officer and is now a reserve mounted deputy for Carson City.  She bought her house on Tupelo St. in 1992 and has expanded the house and built a corral and a barn.  She has 3 horses and 5 dogs.  She described riding across the dry playa.  Her property was mostly flooded so that she had to move all her animals and evacuate.  The initial flooding in January was repelled by clearing the drainage ditches and some pumping.  The second wave came in late February and required that she wear waders to get around the property.  Her driveway and front door were on the uphill side and remained accessible.  She was moved by the efforts made by neighbors to sandbag her home and support her.  While her house didn’t flood, she has had to do a lot of repairs to move back in.  During cross-examination, McKean showed photos of her driveway and photos of neighboring properties that were not flooded.  On re-direct, Kerry talks to Donna about which houses flooded and which ones didn’t.

Roger Doyle called Jim English to the stand.  He’s a program manager with the Washoe County Health District.  He’s been there 18 years.  He has a lot of experience with environmental health issues.  He is concerned about residential septic systems, but this body does not concern itself with residential wells.  He informed citizens in the flooded areas that the flood water may not be safe.  He found 160 homes with flooded septic systems.  His organization worked with the Incident Command that was set up March 8 including FEMA and TMFD.  He knew of 45 people that moved to apartments and 6 that stayed in motels waiting for an apartment to become available.  The Urban Outfitters warehouse was on an island in Silver Lake.  McKean cross-examined him and asked about the area covered by the health district (Washoe County).  He went on to ask about water quality sampling in Swan Lake.  English said they had taken 20 samples at 4 or 5 locations around the lake and that E-Coli and coliform concentrations were below the maximum limits established by the state.  He has no history of taking samples from Swan Lake, so he can’t say if the levels are unusually high.  His agency did not require anyone to evacuate their house.  They are worried about an increase of the mosquito population.

Roger Doyle called Michael DeMartini to the stand as an expert witness on hydrology.  He’s a civil engineer who has been working on North Valley’s water issues since 1970.  He’s on the Northern Nevada Water Planning Commission and does consulting for the City of Reno.  He made a number of interesting points.  His testimony held the attention of the jury.

  • After rising ground water in 1986 a Regional Water Commission (RWC) was created to come up with a plan for the area including water piped in, sewer collection, sewer disposal, and runoff.  Reno did not want to be bound by their recommendations.
  • The RWC concluded that all development should include 100% mitigation features.
  • DeMartini discussed surface water, semi-surface water, and deep ground water.  He explained how you could deplete an aquifer and flood the surface.
  • About half the water consumed in residences goes for landscaping.
  • He remembers living on a 1/3 acre lot and seeing a heavy rain be absorbed by the soil with no runoff.  It was a lesson in how important permeable surfaces are.
  • He says a home on a 1 acre lot will have almost no impact on permeability.
  • A home on a 1/8 acre lot will have little permeability.
  • The trenches dug for utilities (power, water, sewer, gas) are filled with sand and gravel serving as unplanned conduits for water to flow to the lowest point.
  • He found two giant detention ponds in Lemmon Valley that drained quickly.  He examined them and found that they had drain pipes installed that discharged to Swan Lake.  These were in violation of Reno’s development ordinances.
  • He has a depth gauge at White Lake.  In 2017, the lake was the same depth as 1986; about 6″ below the road surface.
  • Swan Lake and Silver Lake were hit by the same weather systems but flooded to new records.  He attributes the difference to development.
  • Most of the Lemmon Valley development falls within the City of Reno rather than unincorporated Washoe County.
  • Reno adopted an ordinance about detaining runoff, but most of the new developments do not comply with it.

Note: there will be no trial Friday 6/14.  The trial will resume at 8:30 AM on Monday, 6/17/19.  Plan to arrive at 8:15.

One thought on “Class-Action Suit: Thursday 6/13

  1. Steve, as we’ve discussed, the immediate danger, and source of contamination of the surface flood waters is from the septic tanks and leach fields at some of the LV residences, including the Heppner Subdivision. The domestic wells, by necessity, would have been constructed and screened to access the groundwater below the impervious clay layer that TMWA and Washoe County engineer Dwayne Smith say is ubiquitous across the LV valley. However, the septic tanks and leach fields would have been constructed and installed at around 10-20 feet below surface, which means they sit ABOVE the clay layer and are therefore in hydrologic contact with the surface water! I would not be surprised to see a contaminant plume migrating from these homes across the Swan Lake area. Reno and Washoe County have a responsibility to remove these homes from private septic systems and onto municipal treatment ASAP. As I’ve said before, septic tanks and leach fields are mini hazardous waste sites. They must be treated as such, and isolated from surface and groundwater, particularly if this water is to be used for domestic purposes! Think about the stuff we drain into our toilets and sinks every day! Human waste, solvents, cleaning fluids, petrochemicals…..


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