Class-Action Suit: Thursday 6/20

Reno’s Jonathan Shipman calls Mark Forest to the stand.  Forest has been retained by Reno to discuss events of 2017 relating to Lemmon Valley flooding.  He’s testifying as an expert hydrologist.  He has a BS degree from Arizona State and a license to practice as a civil engineer.  He also has a certificate in flood-plain management.  He has reviewed area development plans for FEMA regarding flood hazard.  He has done mostly consulting through his career and opened the Reno office for HDR Engineering.  This is a large corporation with over 100 offices.  He’s a vice president and head of the Reno office.  He made a terrain model of the Swan Lake basin using LIDAR (laser-based radar).  He pointed out that a playa will develop a “hard pan” made up of sediment and minerals left when the water evaporates.  This tends to be relatively impermeable.  Due to the hard pan, most of the percolation into the soil occurs close to the perimeter (shore).  There was a description of aerial photos taken in 1939 and 1946 showing basin features from those times.  RSWRF was originally built to serve the Army Airbase at Stead before there were any residential developments.  Forest claims that the berm on the east side of Swan Lake is actually a natural dune formed by wave action from the wind.  Flood plain management started in the 70’s with areas of high flood risk identified.  FEMA maintains the flood-risk maps but does no enforcement.  FEMA updated their maps in ’84 and then in ’86 with a contract with Nimbus Engineering where Forest was employed.  The flood of ’86 occurred shortly after the study started demonstrating where the flood plain was.  They established the Base Floodplain Elevation (BFE) for Swan Lake and Silver Lake.  Forest also had an informal role in producing the Quad-Knopf study (40 PLF 1812- 2338 North Valleys Flood Control, Vol I & II, Quad Knopf_ABBR) about the flood risk due to runoff.  Forest asserts that the runoff from development approved from 2001 to 2017 would only add 70 acre-feet of water to the lake raising the surface only 1/2 inch.  He says the residential lawns do a lot to reduce runoff from developed neighborhoods.  Forest further asserts that RSWRF contributed less than 800 acre feet of water to the playa from January 1 to mid April.  Forest claimed that Thompson did not adjust for evaporation in his calculations.  He thinks that only 18% of the rain/snow that falls in the Swan Lake watershed ends up as runoff into Swan Lake.  Roger Doyle approaches Forest on cross-examination asking whether infiltration and inflow (I&I) into the sewer inlet occurred.  It certainly did.  Infrastructure design should take this into account.  Forest admitted that development was putting more water into the lake than was lost by evaporation.  Reno owns the right-of-ways, easements, or properties where the sewer infrastructure is installed.  Forest admitted that he has not visited the sites to see the city’s sewers and drains.  He didn’t know that the majority of developments had no water-volume mitigation features.  The Truckee Meadows Regional Drainage Manual indicates that 65% of precipitation in developed areas results in runoff, not 18%.  Roger “Did you select methods to support the answer that Reno wanted?”  Forest did not corroborate his methods or result with anyone.  In his deposition Forest was quoted “I don’t think anyone missed that it was going to flood.”  There was less rainfall measured at the Stead gauge in 2017 than in 1986.  Roger picked at inconsistencies between Forest’s testimony and his deposition.  At one point, Forest made a retort that drew a swift admonishment from the judge.  Also from Forest’s deposition “Some properties suffered flooding due to RSWRF effluent.”  Reno paid $325,000 for HDR’s services in supporting this case.  Reno has paid HDR $1.3M over the last ten years and is considering awarding them a contract to investigate the creation of a remote reservoir in the North Valleys.  Roger “Do you agree that if you had reached an unfavorable conclusion in this case that the city would be less likely to award HDR the next contract?”  Shipman took over the re-direct stating that resident Robinson had suffered three flood events (she suffered two flood events).  Forest asserted that these could not all be attributed to the rising lake level.  They made an argument based on an unverified table to claim that any flooding was due to rainfall since the effluent and development only added 0.7 feet to the lake level.  Roger asked on re-cross-examination “Was Reno ever offered flooding mitigation options before 2016?”  “As a vice president at HDR do you get profit sharing?”  Answer “Yes”.

Shipman calls John Flansberg to the stand.  Flansberg is the Director of Public Works for Reno.  He’s Joe Coudriet’s boss who is Robert Zonki’s boss.  Zonki is the manager at the RSWRF plant.  Flansberg is a civil engineer and has worked for Reno for 7 years.  They expected the winter of 2016 to be wet from information from the National Weather Service.  They made some preparations of clearing drainage ditches and locating sand for sand bags.  Washoe County, Reno, and Sparks all declared states of emergency once the storm hit and coordinated through a regional emergency operations center.  He was initially concerned about flooding in Silver Lake and ordered Hesco barrier installations around parts of the shore.  He didn’t order the pumping of lake water to Swan Lake and didn’t know anyone who did.  On cross examination, Roger asked “Does the use of sand bags just move the water and raise the level of the lake?”.  Answer “Yes”.  Reno knew they were pumping runoff along with sewage to the RSWRF plant that would flow to Swan Lake even though the Hesco barriers were up in Swan Lake.  “What did Reno do to limit storm water leakage into the inlet at Moya Road?”  Most of the manhole covers had been identified as at risk for flood leakage.  Flansberg said that they put a lining in some of the sewer lines to prevent leakage into the pipe.  He didn’t know if this was done at the Moya Lift Station.  The planning staff reports to Flansberg.  He did not know that they had just recommended approval of another giant (500,000 square foot) warehouse on the shore of Swan Lake.  Flansberg did not seem to know that the Reno design manual requires mitigation on all projects to reduce runoff.  The first time he asked anyone on his staff to look into mitigation was 2018.  Flansberg said he had inspected the retention and detention basins for recent projects and found them satisfactory.  Roger asked about the Reno design manual that calls for a gravel fill (essentially a French Drain) around a sewer line which creates a conduit for runoff to enter the sewer system.  Shipman asked about hook-up fees and other taxes when he started the re-direct examination.  Roger made the point on re-cross examination that the sewer hook up fees could be used for flood mitigation.

McKean calls Dave Solaro to testify for the defense.  He’s the acting manager for Washoe County.  He’s a civil engineer and an architect.  He’s the sole employee that reports to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC).  This is a very sensitive witness since the issue of Washoe County’s role in the flooding can’t be raised.  He says his role is to see that local codes conform to the master plan (probably “area plans”).  Building inspectors, that report to him, made trips to Lemmon Valley.

>> Disclaimer: these notes may contain errors or inexact quotations.  They were not written with the benefit of the court transcripts.

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