Class-Action Suit: Friday 6/21

The defense is making their case.  McKean re-calls Dave Solaro (acting County Manager) to the stand.  Solaro said that the county’s main role was to help with the recovery once the flood was receding.  He made a reference to unincorporated county residents in the area.  He said there were flooding problems all over the county in January and February.  Much of his role was to provide information to Hicks who was the head of the emergency response team.  The county provided Hesco barriers and some earthen berms.  He visited Lemmon Valley once or twice a week.  The county notified residents that flooding was expected.  The North Valleys road supervisor was the first one to warn of flooding in the area in December.  In January they received a number of complaints about flooding in ditches and culverts.  Solaro pointed out the county’s Lemmon Valley sewer plant on the aerial view.  Washoe County did not take flood-level measurements in January.  Solaro doesn’t know why they didn’t.  They started tracking the level in February.  He discussed a flood area map showing the lake level was below the nominal flood stage of 4924 (Base Flood Elevation).  Sean Keating did the building inspections and reported the results to Solaro.  Solaro claimed that the county did not evict anyone from their homes, but the red tags received by 14 home owners said “do not enter”.  Solaro said he had no concern about the safety and integrity of the Hesco barriers.  He did not know about the ones that failed dramatically in Davenport, Iowa.  Busby handled the cross examination.  He asked why the barriers were put up on Albert St. but not on Pompe.  Solaro said that Hicks thought the water was too deep to do it safely at that time.  “Did the county know how much water was being pumped from Silver Lake to Swan Lake as infiltration and inflow of runoff in addition to the sewage flow?”  Answer “no”.  Solaro’s principal goal was to protect homes.  The Heppner subdivisions were in Washoe County.  They were built in the 70’s and are on septic systems.  Solaro asserted that the lake is now at the same level as at the peak in 2017.  He agreed that the installation of the Hesco barriers may have raised the lake level.  Solaro couldn’t say that the flooding had subsided over time.  The Hesco placement started with the recommendations by the Army Corps of Engineers.  He was not aware that a lot of runoff was being pumped to Swan Lake from Silver Lake.  McKean handled the re-direct examination for the defense.  “Did Reno ever ask LVWRF to stop discharging to Swan Lake?”  Answer “No”.  Solaro asserted that LVWRF didn’t flood, but that the evaporation ponds did.

Sendall called Mark Kaminski to the stand.  He’s a civil engineer who works on water pollution control under NDEP.  His interest is technical compliance, inspection, and plan review.  His department mostly reviews waste water treatment facilities performing 40-80 inspections a year on facilities both public and private.  They verify that permit holders are in compliance with flow limits and other conditions.  There were excess flows from all the area waste treatment facilities including RSWRF, TMWRF, LVWRF, STMWRF, and Cold Springs due to storm water infiltration.  Kaminski asserted that RSWRF is “owned and operated by Reno” when it is operated by Sparks.  According to his records, the RSWRF plant only exceeded its monthly permitted flows in February 2017.  There was no action against Reno for this.  NDEP will not take action if the violation is due to extreme weather.  RSWRF didn’t report that their effluent quality was non-compliant.  This may have been because they only sample weekly and may have missed the worst interval.  He said the Lemmon Valley plant (LVWRF) operated by Washoe County was the most affected by storm water infiltration.  Roger handled the cross examination asking whether NDEP verifies the inlet and outlet flows reported by RSWRF.  Kaminski said that they did not and only used the data that RSWRF reported.  Roger pressed the point that the outlet flume had been overflowing for 83,000 minutes during the storm so that the data was clearly too low.  Kaminski did not see a corrected report from RSWRF indicating that their recorded data was not accurate.  He will not do another review of their data.  Kaminski reported that the private sewer lift station at Urban Outfitters had failed during the storm.  Sendall covered little in her re-direct.  On re-cross, Roger made the point that Swan Lake water ended up on Washoe County property when it flooded the LVWRF plant.

Shipman called Joe Coudriet to the stand.  Coudriet is a civil engineer and a manager in the Reno Public Works department.  He manages the RSWRF plant from an office in City Hall.  He is responsible for flood plain management, and water reclamation.  He doesn’t have much of a role in the sewer “collection system”.  He was emphatic that no one pumped storm water from Silver Lake to Swan Lake.    On cross examination, Roger pointed out the apparent inconsistency.  Coudriet was adamant that “infiltration and inflow” (I & I ) was not the same as runoff.  Of course, the I & I is runoff that gets into the sewer line.  Coudriet explained that their goal is to minimize I & I, but that it is incidental to the design.  Roger got him to concede that the design “incorporates” I & I.  Coudriet’s earlier deposition had presumed that the RSWRF flow data was accurate.  He only later learned of the overflowing flume at RSWRF.  Roger asked why he had proposed to expand the RSWRF plant capacity from 2 mgd to 4 mgd given that he had expressed concern over increasing the flowrate to Swan Lake in 2016.  He had communicated to Janell Thomas that flooding conditions are anticipated in the winter that might last for weeks or months.  RSWRF had an inlet bypass line connected that would have sent some of the inlet volume directly to TMWRF, but this bypass line failed during the storm.  Roger “As the flood plain manager, do you review new development regarding the possible flood impacts?”  Answer: yes.  Roger asked if he’d reviewed the recently approved Makita warehouse project on the shore of Swan Lake.  Coudriet said he hadn’t seen it, but he had seen the new Logisticenter application.  Roger “Between 2005 and 2016 did Reno build any discharge options outside of the basin?”  Answer: no.  On re-direct, Shipman claims that the problems are very complex and many don’t have yes-or-no answers.  Coudriet said that Reno routinely prepares for flooding every winter.  Shipman goes on to ask about getting approvals from FEMA in the form of CLOMR‘s and LOMR’s.  The bypass line to TMWRF (aka flow-shave) has been in place since 2003 or 2004.  Surprisingly, Coudriet didn’t recall his recent proposal to the Reno Planning Commission to increase the capacity of the RSWRF plant.

Shipman calls Antone Sallaberry to the stand.  Sallaberry is a public works supervisor responsible for sewer system maintenance.  His group (30 employees) takes trouble calls regarding the sewer system.  He also handles storm water service of ditches and inlets as well as residential issues.  He was out in the field during the 2016 storms.  They had to monitor the pump stations 24-7 during the storm.  Many were at risk of becoming overwhelmed.  The biggest crisis was the failure of a pump station at Huffaker.  The Moya pump station has been problematic and had trouble keeping up.  A portable pump was brought in and pumped the sewage into trucks which then discharged to a nearby RSWRF connection.  In his opinion, the North Valleys sewer system was stressed, but worked mostly OK for the 2016 winter storms.  In his cross-examination, Roger asked “Why not keep the I & I out of the sewer system?”  Sallaberry answered that they’re doing what they can.  They didn’t know where the high-flow of I & I was coming from.  Roger showed a slide identifying manhole covers that the city considered at risk for leaking.

The defense rested.  During the afternoon session, Judge Breslow met with the legal teams to determine the rules for the coming week and what should be in the jury instructions.  Monday will begin with the plaintiff’s rebuttal.

Disclaimer: this report was made without the benefit of a transcript or a recording.  It may contain inaccuracies and quotes attributed to individuals may be inexact.


Map of flood area: +537 Community_SwanLakeLevel_4920pt8_20171113

Graph of flood elevation: 539 graph

One thought on “Class-Action Suit: Friday 6/21

  1. Thank you for your continued minute-by-minute reporting of this trial, Steve. After I read each day’s testimonies, I think to myself “what are the City and County engineers and planners learning from this?”. What can we do to improve how we manage ALL water in Washoe. Stormwater is just as valuable as groundwater/surface water and every attempt should be made to prevent it from comingling with waste water of any kind. It seems that new developments and infrastructures are being planned and built SO hastily that prudent attention to best water management practices aren’t being considered. Another reason for a moratorium.


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