Class-Action Suit: Wednesday 6/12

Luke Busby put Karen Johnson on the stand.  She lives with her husband Jeff, adult son Jeff Jr., his wife and a baby at 415 Pompe Way.  Jeff struggles with Parkinsons.  Their property flooded forcing them to evacuate.  Their large propane tank broke loose and was floating in their yard.  This home does not have a well, but gets water plumbed from TMWA.  They all lived in a 2-bedroom apartment for a year before returning home.  Their home didn’t flood, but there were new cracks in the foundation.  Busby presented photos of her flooded property and of the water flowing under the Hesco barriers and under the raised portion of Lemmon Drive.  William McKean did the cross-examination and asked her about the flooding, the timing, about the county notices, and the FEMA sticker.  He also asked about them moving their fifth-wheel travel trailer.

Busby called David Westhoff to the stand as an expert hydrologist.  He was a reviewer of the major report (below) done in 2007 by the Quad-Knox corporation about the contribution of runoff from precipitation on the level of Swan Lake.  The study was performed for the City of Reno and the Washoe County Regional Water Planning Commission.  The conclusion of the report was that development in Lemmon Valley had been limited by the availability of water.  If water was “imported” (by TMWA), the imported water and the resulting waste water would present a problem.  The report considered several options for mitigation, but none of them were promising.

  • Excavating to make the playa deeper.
  • Using levees to hold back the rising water.
  • Using Low Impact Development practices.
  • Injecting the runoff into an aquifer.
  • Making an effluent reservoir in the Silver Lake basin.
  • Pumping the excess out of the Swan Lake basin.
  • Building an infiltration reservoir near the Stead Airport.

Westhoff made the point that runoff from increased development would not be effectively mitigated by detention basins.  Low Impact Development will have little effect on storm runoff.  Busby also made reference to the Ecologic study done in 2005 (below) that considered the issue of waste water disposal as opposed to storm runoff.  This study considered that the RSWRF facility might be expanded to 7 mgd.  The study considered 9 approaches to dispose of the effluent and identified 3 as the most promising.

  1. Send effluent to the TMWRF facility
  2. Reuse more of the effluent for irrigation and dust control
  3. Build Vadose Zone wells near the airport (a variant of rapid-infiltration-basins)

These are already are under consideration and all have limits and drawbacks.

Reno attorney cross-examines Westhoff making the point that Westhoff did not make measurements, collect data, or do much analysis as his contribution to the Quad-Knopf report.  Westhoff did not work on the Ecologic study.  Westhoff made the point that most of the mitigation basins are “retention” rather than “detention” designs.

Busby, on re-direct examination, made the point that the Quad-Knopf report had been reviewed by many agencies and was considered authoritative.

Busby then called Jeff Johnson to the stand to talk about his property following his wife’s testimony.  He said he lived in the trailer near his house for a period when he was concerned about looters.  Reno never compensated him for the imposition caused by the flooding.  He estimates that the Hesco barriers have about 2-1/2 feet of water behind them.

Reno’s McKean cross-examined Johnson and asked about the current condition of his home.  He talked about the installation of the Hesco barriers.  He asked “Do you think if the county had installed the Hescoes earlier that your property would have been protected earlier?”  Johnson answered “Yes.”  Busby objected, but the court allowed the statement to stand.  This appeared to be a successful effort by the defendants to show that the county was also responsible.  Johnson also answered that they had briefly put their house on the market, but had then taken it off.  It had been listed at $249,000 while they had paid $135,000 for in in 2014.

The trial was interrupted for some drama when one juror improperly expressed an opinion about the case contrary to the court’s orders.  The judge and all the attorneys then interviewed all the jurors (in chambers) to find out if the one had influenced the others.  They concluded that the issue was limited to the single juror so that they would not declare a mistrial.  The juror was dismissed leaving 8 jurors plus 1 alternate.

Ecologic Study: 133 PLF 1630-1662 2005 NV Effluent Disposal Options

The Quad-Knopf study is nearly a gigabyte in size.  This is an abbreviated version with the appendices and supporting data removed: 40 PLF 1812- 2338 North Valleys Flood Control, Vol I & II, Quad Knopf_ABBR

Class-Action Suit: Opening Arguments

The class-action lawsuit between Lemmon Valley residents and the City of Reno got underway yesterday.  Jury selection was Monday and opening arguments and testimony started Tuesday.

Who’s who …

  • Judge Barry Breslow presiding
  • Plaintiff’s team (neighbors): Kerry Doyle, Roger Doyle, Luke Busby
  • Defendant’s team (Reno): Karl Hall, John Shipman, McKean (sp?), legal assistant, Sabra Newby (City Manager)

Kerry Doyle opened with the argument that the flooding was caused by “pavement and pumping” the responsibility of the city.  Reno allowed development that paved over soil that previously absorbed winter run off and pumped treated waste water into Swan Lake.  The previous “wet” years of 1986, 1997, and 2006 did not produce comparable flooding.  Reno chose to expand into the North Valleys by 1,000 acres in 1986 despite reports that this would cause flooding.  She cited the Quad-Knopf report of the area.  She went on to argue that the City was guilty of Inverse Condemnation, Trespass, Nuisance, and Conversion.  She defined “Inverse Condemnation” as the government using your property without compensation.  She defined “Conversion” as the government interfering with “use and enjoyment” of the owner’s property.

Jonathan Shipman opened for the city claiming that the city mostly impacted the Silver Lake basin, not the Swan Lake basin.  He went on with a presentation “Who, What, When, Where, Why?” that seemed more like a glossary of terms than any kind of argument.  It was mind numbing.  Perhaps that was the point.  He went on to say it was a natural disaster created by atmospheric rivers, and the residents were living in a flood plane.

David “Mike” Walls took the stand and testified about the terrible flooding on his property.  He has been living with his wife in a neighbors travel trailer since March of 2017.  Their home is uninhabitable with no electrical service and a submerged septic tank.  He has lived there 40 years and seen the previous heavy storms but never saw flooding like this.

Sam Hicks, TMFD battalion chief, took the stand and testified to the state of the flooding and the related safety issues.  He was especially concerned about fires, stranded cars and homes, and also electrical shock.  Floating propane tanks were a particular concern.

Chief deputy Lytle took the stand to discuss the FEMA taskforce he managed in support of Chief Hicks’s team.  The FEMA Team arrived in Lemmon Valley with 26 employees with expertise in rescue, hazmat, structure, and canine-search.  He was especially concerned about the bio hazard from the contaminated water and the homes that were at risk of structural collapse.  His team was on site for 5 or 6 days.

If you want to go …

The trial is on the second floor of the District Court in the Department 8 courtroom.  Be there at 8:15 AM.  There will be a lunch break noon till 1 PM.  The day will end around 4 PM.  There were probably 20 vacant seats available for spectators yesterday.  Bring a jacket: they keep the temperature comfortable for lawyers wearing suits and ties.

 Local coverage:

KOLO-8 (Terry Russel has consistently given the most detailed coverage of the flooding)


Silver Hills Project denied by NVCAB

The Silver Hills development was unanimously denied by the North Valleys Citizens’ Advisory Board.  There were about 60 neighbors in attendance for meeting at the North Valleys Regional Park building.  This project had been brought up at an earlier CAB meeting, but it had not been properly “agendized” for them to make a decision.  The area is zoned 1 dwelling per acre.  Existing homes follow this requirement.  Many are on multi-acre lots.  The developer wants to build 1872 homes on 780 acres.

Neighbors made the following points during public comment.

  • This development is not compatible with the area plan.  Silver Knolls has adhered to the existing zoning for 40 years.
  • The TMRPA survey showed that this kind of urban sprawl was the least popular of the four growth options considered by respondents.
  • The new development would be in an area of high fire danger.  The limited fire resources would likely be used to protect the new development rather than existing homeowners.
  •  An earlier nearby development followed the area plan.  In this case, the neighbors worked with the developer.
  • Red Rock Road is already a hazard and can’t handle additional traffic.  There is already no safe way to pass bicycles on the narrow pavement.  It has low spots that can flood.  RTC plans to widen the road, but there is no schedule to do it.  There are residential driveways onto Red Rock Road.
  • The board members should consider the developer reports skeptically since the engineering firms have an interest in pleasing their clients.
  • The area is already under-served by law enforcement.  It will only get worse.
  • There is a petition signed by 500 residents who oppose this development.  This represents the majority of the residents.

Mike Raley (of Wood Rogers) gave the presentation for the developer, Lifestyle Homes.  He said the plan had been changed since December in ways to better accommodate the neighbors.

  • He claimed that the zoning wasn’t that different from the area plan and that there was an open space buffer so the neighborhoods could keep their character.
  • The number of dwellings had been reduced from 2340 to 1872.
  • The design has increased park acreage.
  • They would plan to use 100% of the effluent generated for landscape irrigation.  They are in negotiations with RSWRF on how to do this.
  • They have added an equestrian trail.
  • It will probably be 2-3 years before construction begins and it will take 15-20 years before the development is completed.
  • RTC plans to widen Red Rock Road to 4 lanes in 2022 or 2023 to support the Evans Ranch development in any case.
  • The discussion of a new North Valleys reservoir is not related to the Silver Hills development.
  • The smaller lots would be 1/6 of an acre.

The board posed questions to Mr. Raley.

Roger Edwards asked “Why not follow the existing area plan?”.  Raley answered that the developer wanted to meet a variety of demands for homes.

Roger Edwards asked whether this was considered affordable housing.  Raley answered no, that many of the homes were for working families considered the “missing middle”.  Edwards was not satisfied with the answer.

Patrick Shea asked about the lot sizes.  Raley answered that clustering was allowed.

The public posed questions to Mr. Raley.

“Could the development schedule be accelerated if the developer sold off part to other builders?”  Raley answered that it might, but that it probably wouldn’t make much difference.

“Will the current residents be required to connect to municipal sewer?” Raley answered “no”.  The existing septic systems would not be impacted.  Audience members were skeptical.

“Where is the water coming from?”  Raley answered that it will be delivered by TMWA from Fish Springs.

“If the build-out will take 15-20 years, how does that address the current housing shortage?”  Raley answered that they expect the housing boom to last 30 years, so it will address the need.

“This development will lower the property values of existing residents since the rural lifestyle will be spoiled.”  There was no answer.

“When will the lower cost homes be built to address the “missing middle”?   Raley said that the less expensive models would be built first.

The board deliberated, but the main issue was the change to the character of the area.  There was a consensus that such a large, dense development would despoil the rural character of the area.

The development proposal will go to the Washoe Planning Commission next.  If it is denied by the Planning Commission, the developer will likely appeal to the Washoe County Board of County Commissioners composed of realtors, developers, and property managers.  The BCC consistently provides a sympathetic hearing to developers.

Ray Lake announced that he is not seeking re-appointment to the CAB.  He has served seven years and needs to reduce his obligations at this time.  He will be missed.  He has proven masterful with a balance grace and discipline in the way he runs the meetings.  Fortunately, the board appears to be clear-eyed and resolute in their convictions.



No New Waste Water in Swan Lake


The outlines of a plan to eliminate the contribution of waste water to the Swan Lake flooding emerged from the details about the Stead waste water plant expansion (RSWRF)  presentation.

Here are the salient points:

  • The RSWRF plant has sufficient capacity (2.0 mgd) to handle the Lemmon Valley waste water treatment plant (LVWRF; 0.3 mgd).
  • The RSWRF plant is much newer and treats the effluent to a Class-A standard.  The LVWRF plant is over 40 years old and treats the effluent to a Class-C standard.
  • The Truckee Meadows water treatment plant (TMWRF) has sufficient surplus capacity to treat all the RSWRF effluent to a standard that allows it to discharge into the Truckee River.
  • There is presently an unused pipe (line) from RSWRF to TMWRF that could be connected to transport all the RSWRF discharge to the TMWRF facility.  It has been identified as a “shave” line.

So, why not do the following?

  1. Declare a moratorium on new water and sewer hook ups until the waste water is diverted out of the Swan Lake basin.  New development now is only making the disaster worse.
  2. Close the LVWRF plant and connect its customers to the RSWRF plant.  The LVWRF plant is out of date, treats to a low standard, and requires earthen berms and pumps to avoid being flooded.
  3. Connect the available line to divert all the RSWRF discharge to the TMWRF facility.  Neither LVWRF nor RSWRF will discharge to Swan Lake.
  4. Rescind the moratorium and support new connections up to the capacity limits of the new configuration.

Moving forward more capacity will be needed to support the ambitious development plans for the North Valleys.  The regional plan is to add 17,000 more dwellings.  This will require some serious infrastructure spending in any case.

  1. Expand the RSWRF plant from the current 2.0 mgd capacity to 4.0 mgd capacity as proposed.
  2. Direct the effluent from the RSWRF plant to a new TMWA plant that will refine the effluent from Class-A to Class-A+ that will allow it to be discharged into the Truckee River or used in many applications.
  3. Alternately, direct the effluent from the RSWRF plant to a new reservoir that could be built in the North Valleys to handle more effluent for storage, evaporation, and groundwater recharge.

Risks and Issues …

  • The Class-A+ process is still in a feasibility phase, it is not ready for volume use.  There is some risk it won’t be production ready in time for the new demand.  But, there are a number of Class-A+ facilities in other states, so there should be some reliable way to implement this.
  • Most of the new Long Valley creek is in California.  It is not clear if Reno could get approval to build a new reservoir there.  Fortunately, some of the suitable area is in Washoe County, so there should be a way to move forward in any case.

Let’s start with the first steps.  This can be done in a matter of weeks so that the waste water flows into Swan Lake are eliminated.  If there is some delay in getting the expanded capacity needed for the planned development, that is probably inevitable.  Note that this proposal does not address the issue of rain run off into Swan Lake.

Steve Wolgast sent the Reno City Council, the Reno Planning Commission, the Washoe County Commission, and the Washoe Planning Commission his presentation with a brief introductory note.




TMWA Meeting – Lemmon Valley Water Management and Responses to Open Letter (

May 28, 2019 2pm

Attendees: John Enloe, Director Natural Resources, Greg Pohll PhD, Principal Hydrogeologist, Andy Gebhardt, Director, Operations and Water Quality, Kris Hemlein, Washoe Resident

We opened the meeting by reviewing previous correspondence from (Lemmon Valley) LV Residents to TMWA, Andy Gebhardt’s responses to their questions on April 23, John’s email to Steve on April 25 stating that two LV extraction wells were shut down due to flooding.

  1. I explained that I got involved as a citizen with professional experience in hydrogeology and wrote up my questions and requests for information in letter form which we decided to submit to “This Is Reno” for publishing.   TMWA was not pleased that I had my letter published in This is Reno, as they felt it was misleading in that it insinuated that the water quality for TMWA’s customers in Lemmon Valley was compromised. “I don’t understand why you couldn’t have just sent the letter directly to us. We would have happily given you all the information you need, without having to make it public. Once this meeting is over, I think you will agree that TMWA’s involvement in the Swan Lake flooding is non-existent. We have explained this to the LV residents over and over again. Tammy Holt Still keeps talking about the 2 million gallons/day coming from the Fish Springs well supply system. That water is being used as supply to our customers, not discharging to Swan Lake.   We have tried to explain this to them over and over to no avail.”
  2. John stated that Andy Gebhardt met with Bob Conrad (This Is Reno editor) to complain about the title of my letter/article and to try to set the record straight – that TMWA is NOT responsible for LV flooding and that our water quality has not been impacted ( TMWA added).
  3. They presented me with a notebook containing all the information I requested in my letter. We reviewed the contents of the notebook, particularly the extraction wells locations and the pumping information.
  4. I asked whether they were concerned about contamination due to infiltration of surface water.   They have sampled the LV wells frequently and have so far not found any evidence of contamination from surface sources.
  5. They provided a cross section depicting the depth and extent of the “clay layer” referenced by Dwayne Smith in his LV remediation discussions. The cross section utilizes the well logs from LV7, 8 and 6, Northwest to southeast. The thickness of the clay beneath Swan Lake varies from 50 to nearly 400 feet (TMWA removed).
  6. We discussed the East and West LV basins, separated by the Airport Fault. TMWA uses the West LV basin for groundwater recharge/storage and a pilot program is underway there evaluating the feasibility of storing additional water underground on Washoe County property north of the airport, but not the East LV basin, where Swan Lake and LV WTP is located. No water injection takes place in the East LV basin, except for a small test well located near the Reno-Sparks treatment plant where an injection test will take place next month at 15 gallons per minute for 2 – 3 months (less than 6 acre-feet in total).
  7. We discussed the LV Residents’ concern over the 2 million gallons a day extracted from 2 Fish Springs wells to augment water supply. The LV Community suspects that this water is contributing to Swan Lake flooding. In 2019 TMWA only recharged the Silver Lake well, which is in West LV Basin, in the amount of 45 acre-feet, and therefore not contributing to the Swan Lake flooding. Andy Gebhardt provided additional information regarding the amount of recharge taking place via injection at the two Silver Lake wells and reiterated that the Silver Lake wells are in the West LV Basin and not hydrologically connected to the East LV Basin, therefore not contributing to the water balance in that basin.
  8. We discussed the 40 feet of piezometric loss in the East Basin due to groundwater extraction since the 1970s, as depicted on a hydrograph provided by TMWA. Groundwater is beginning to rebound since the flooding began in 2017 and groundwater pumping was reduced. In 2019 groundwater levels are 20-60 feet below Swan Lake indicating that the aquifer does not discharge to the lake.
  9. I asked whether the LV Community group has technical/professional assistance to help them understand the issues and the remedial options presented by the City/County engineers. They told me that Mark Walker, UNR professor of Natural Resources has been assisting the LV community.
  10. TMWA is working with the Western Regional Water Commission and others (Reno, Washoe County, UNR) to evaluate the feasibility of additional groundwater recharge/storage in the Stead area (West LV Basin, at the Washoe County property mentioned previously, north of the Airport) as well as evaluating the feasibility of upgrading the Reno-Stead WTP to A+ water quality standards for injection purposes. Potential implementation of such an option, if feasible, is several years away.
  11. We discussed options for LV residents in the Hepner Subdivision, still on domestic wells and septic systems. AB 42 provides a financing option for residents to help pay for hooking up to municipal water system. TMWA states that putting these homes on the municipal water system is a prudent strategy if domestic well owners are concerned about their water quality.   They did not comment as to whether the Hepner Subdivision septic systems are a possible eventual source of contamination to surface or groundwater in East LV Basin.

Subsequent to the meeting I asked for clarification on several items:

  1. The thickness of the clay layer that Dwayne Smith references as being “protective of the LV aquifer” is correct in that estimates of 50 – 400 feet of clay underlies the area around Swan Lake playa. Following TMWAs recent evaluation of the hydrogeology in Lemmon Valley, they believe the thickest sections of clay are limited to the area beneath Swan Lake playa. Airborne resistivity mapping done by Washoe County shows lowest resistivity values (which is indicative of fine sediments) beneath the playa, with values increasing laterally, which supports TMWA’s conceptual model. Borehole logs are also consistent with this interpretation.
  2. The clay horizon does thin as you move away from the playa, and there is a one borehole beyond the western edge of Swan Lake that does not have any fine sediment.
  3. The clay lens does exist to a depth of approximately 20 ft in the south end of the Hepner Subdivision, but transitions to granodiorite at the north end. This could be a concern as the clay acts as an impermeable barrier to downward infiltration of surface water/fluids and therefore there might be a possibility that leachate from the Hepner Subdivision septic and leach fields could migrate downward into the aquifer.
  4. I asked TMWA if they have an estimate of the amount of available storage exists in the West LV basin. They stated that they are currently developing a groundwater model for all of Lemmon Valley which will be used to determine the storage potential.
  5. I asked why East LV basin recharge/storage is not considered feasible/practical. TMWA stated that they do not have an operational reason to recharge groundwater in the East LV basin. In the West LV basin recharge operations have been necessary to improve and maintain groundwater water levels, which benefits both municipal and domestic wells in that area. Also, water levels in Golden Valley (East LV) have been increasing toward land surface which is why Washoe County stopped injecting in 2016 or 2017. Back to Question 4, if there is available storage, why not encourage the active ingress of water by injection as a way to manage overall water storage issues in LV?

In summary, TMWA states that their water management processes are not responsible for the LV flooding, nor does the flooding impact water quality or supply infrastructure in LV. But can they be part of the solution to LV flooding?   TMWA has the financial means, technology and infrastructure to be part of the long-term solution.

This Week 6/3/19

Sunday 6/2 (past) 4:00 – 6:00 PM

WRAP Meeting and mixer.  About 50 residents attended a meeting to discuss development-related issues from around the county.  Verdi, Lemmon Valley, Silver Knolls, Hidden Valley, South Reno, Damonte Ranch, Double Diamond, Virginia Foothills, Galena, Steamboat Valley, Pleasant Valley, and Washoe Valley were all represented.  A number of neighbors described issues that they are experiencing in their neighborhoods.  There was a minimal presentation: not all the individuals listed were present.  The conversations continued after the meeting as concerned citizens got acquainted.

Presentation: WRAP Meeting & Mixer_060219

Tuesday 6/4, 6:30 PM, Washoe County Chambers; Wells & Ninth

Washoe Planning Commission will meet.  There is little on the agenda, but it is Mike Lawson’s last meeting as Planning Commissioner.  There are several candidates for this position, but no replacement for him has been announced.

Wednesday 6/5, 10 AM, City Hall

Reno City Council will meet.   Council member Brekhus’ moratorium resolution is not on the agenda.  There may be some reference to it.

Thursday 6/6, 6:00 PM, City Hall

Reno Planning Commission will meet.  Agenda item 6.6 is the Bella Vista Ranch II amendment by the developer to make changes to increase the total number of dwellings from 575 to 612.


Regional Plan Update 2019, 5/30/19

The American Planning Association held an educational luncheon at the RTC building.

Director Kim Robinson and Staff Scientist Jeremy Smith gave a presentation about …

  • possible development schemes
  • public survey inputs
  • recent development activities
  • area trends in housing

Key points made by the presenters

  • The current Regional Plan dates to 2007 and is little changed from the version developed in 2002.  It’s time for a new plan and vision for the area.
  • They received a lot of public input getting 1814 responses to an online survey.
  • They have held 42 meetings seeking public input.
  • The idea is to address growth patterns through “scenario planning” based on priorities.
  • There were four scenarios considered, modeled, and offered for public review.  There were
    1. “Classic”; this presumes we keep growing in the pattern we have been historically
    2. “McCarran”; this encourages more of the growth within the McCarran Loop.
    3. “Smart Greenfield”; this encourages growth near existing infrastructure.
    4. “Infill”; this strongly emphasizes high density growth in the urban core.
  • Survey responses on growth indicate the following concerns in order.
    1. Infrastructure
    2. Natural environment
    3. Accommodating growth
    4. Housing
  • Survey responses on quality of life indicate the following priorities.
    1. Natural environment
    2. Land use/infrastructure
    3. Education
    4. Economic well-being
  • Survey responses (840) ranking the different growth scenarios came out as follows;
    1. Infill; highest growth density around downtown
    2. Smart Greenfield Growth; grow around existing infrastructure.
    3. McCarran; higher density growth within the McCarran Loop.
    4. Classic; keep sprawling like we have been.
  • Based on the Consensus Growth numbers, they expect they will need 44,000 more dwelling units (houses, condos, apartments) over the next 20 years presuming a population increase of 107,000.
  • There are currently 60,000 dwelling units approved as Planned Unit Developments or Tentative Maps in the Truckee Meadows.
  • There is 40-50 years of development capacity with no changes in current zoning.
  • Some additional units over 44,000 dwelling units will be needed for “market liquidity” allowing for the convenient selling and buying of existing homes.
  • Approximately 4,000 dwelling units were added to the area in 2018.
  • Reno has been building about 40% multi-family residences for the past 2-5 years.  This approximates the “McCarran” scheme.  They are incentivizing vertical growth.
  • TMRPA would like to see a regional public infrastructure investment plan.  The local governments have different planning methods that are hard to coordinate.
  • Clearing the slate of “paper lots” or zombie projects would allow for more accurate planning.
  • There is presently a shift away from concurrent infrastructure building where infrastructure is built to be ready when new residents move in.
  • There is interest and fear on the part of local governments about how to fairly apportion increased police and fire service costs to developers.

Key points made by the developers in attendance

  • Many of the 60,000 dwelling units approved are not economically feasible to build.  It’s unfair that the Planning Commissions use this backlog as a reason to deny new development plans.  These are “paper lots” (aka zombie projects).
  • Affordable housing is almost impossible to build since the property owners want too much for undeveloped land.
  • The contributions from developers for police and fire services are unfair.  Some developers are required to build a fire station while others contribute nothing.


  • Planning land use to protect the natural environment and access to nature along with infrastructure tops the list of priorities for residents.  Residents think economic development is less important than preserving the natural character of the area.
  • Residents don’t like the way growth has been happening.  The “Classic” development scheme is the last choice.