Plans for Swan Lake 8/27/19

The Washoe County Board of County Commissioners met today to give staff direction on how to proceed with proposals to protect the Lemmon Valley residents (Agenda item 8).  Duane Smith (County Engineer) made a presentation describing the county efforts and approaches he considered promising.

(Staff Report: BCC 08-27-19 – Staff Report – Lemmon Valley).  [Meeting video]

Highlights from Smith’s presentation:

  • The county has spent $8.83M on flood control efforts in the Swan Lake area since 2017.
  • The county is presently spending $230k per month on Swan Lake flood control.
  • He repeatedly called the flooding a “natural disaster” when the jury in the class-action suit determined that Reno was largely responsible for the flooding.
  • The county has requested over $3M in reimbursement funds from FEMA.  The county has received $850k of this to date.  Only certain costs on a specific schedule are eligible for FEMA reimbursement.  FEMA reimbursement can take 2-7 years.
  • The peak lake level in 2019 was slightly above the peak in 2017.
  • The HESCO barriers are the right solution in this situation as confirmed by a consultant.
  • Some of the barriers were leaning because one side was on the road surface.  These barriers have been remounted so as to be more vertical.
  • The pump ducts have been relocated under the road surface so that the harsh ramps that protected them have been removed.
  • Smith claims that county workers have been harassed by area residents.  This is vehemently denied.
  • Water quality sampling by the Health Department shows that the water continues to meet Class-A standards which is suitable for “recreation”. Given the intense algae blooms and the coffee-colored water taken from lake, this seems highly dubious.
  • The county is putting in expanded berms and removing the temporary inflatable dams as the berms are completed.
  • The LVWRF waste water plant operated by the county only discharges 65 acre feet into the lake twice a year.
  • Smith is proposing that some effluent be sprayed (aerated) for evaporation.  He indicated that this would be done at the LVWRF plant.  If this were successful, the plant would need to discharge little or no effluent into the lake.
  • Smith favors pumping some lake water onto vacant property (“land application”) for evaporation.  He also favors “flood pool management” using natural basins to retain water for evaporation and infiltration.
  • If both “land application” and “flood pool management” schemes are implemented, Smith estimates that 400-600 acre-feet could be evaporated.  Note that the area of the lake at flood stage is about 1800 acres.
  • The county has good collaboration with the Reno for working in the area.
  • He plans to use HDR Engineering for long-term mitigation planning.
  • If the 2019 winter is like the 2018 winter, there is renewed risk of flooding.
  • The Prado North development may plan to take soil from the natural berm in Swan Lake increasing the lake’s volume.

Public Comment

  • The North Valleys Blvd was down to one lane for road work.  This combined with the road work on Lemmon Drive and a fire blocking 395S meant that neighbors had to drive north to Stead to take Virginia Street south to reach the city.  There needs to be better coordinating between Washoe County and Reno on construction.
  • Washoe County should consider seeking a change to the Nevada Revised Statutes similar to what was done in Texas bill requiring a vote on annexation including all residents who would be affected.
  • The county should not select HDR for a new feasibility study regarding Swan Lake after the representatives’ performance at the Lemmon Valley residents class action lawsuit.  The firm has proven itself to be technically and ethically questionable.
  • Why not effectively extend the natural berm in Swan Lake over to Pompe Street making a natural rim to contain the water?
  • Smith makes repeated references to “stakeholders” that were included in the discussions of the Lemmon Valley plans.  He included developers as stakeholders, but not homeowners.
  • The recent thunderstorms caused flooding because the runoff could not reach the lake due to the barriers.  The pumps were not running so the water collected on the uphill side of the barriers.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the staff’s efforts (Jung absent).  The direction includes:

  • Continue to fund flood response activities.
  • Design and bid projects to reduce the lake volume.
  • Seek agreements for easements, licenses and others to support these efforts.

 

In other news … the commissioners heard a report regarding the search for a new county manager to replace acting county manager Dave Solaro (Agenda item 9).  This was from the representative of Ralph Andersen & Associates who is conducting the search (staff report: Staff Report_County Manager Recruitment Update).  She reported that she is starting the evaluation phase of the effort.  She is reviewing resume’s that have been submitted.  She expects this to take a week or two.  She is compiling an “assessment panel” to consider the candidates the week of September 16.  She will be asking some local residents to serve on this panel.  The candidates would be interviewed by the county commissioners on September 30.

Local News … 8/26/19

Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District news; notes by Tom Daly

Apparatus – In late July TM received two new Type 1 structure engines and assigned those to TM#32 Eastlake and TM#40 Mogul. These were authorized in the FY19 budget. Two more engines are in the FY20 budget.

Strategic Plan – This plan will be delayed until January 2020 in order to add a five-year financial projection as to expected revenues and expenditures and will include a Fleet Management Plan and a Facilities Master Plan.

Fire Marshal – This vacant position will likely be filled and announced at the November 2019 TMFPD Board meeting.

TM#37 Hidden Valley living quarters renovation and new vehicle bay – A Special Use Permit (SUP) is needed from the Board of Adjustment, so look for that at their September or October meeting. Also, the City Council of Reno is slow walking their required second vote on a minor boundary adjustment for the site and the County is insisting on an expensive sewer line adjustment when only a short connection via an easement is needed. Once approvals are received the living quarters work will proceed immediately with ground breaking for the new apparatus building likely in the Spring of 2020.

Personnel – On 8/27/2019 the BCC will consider the appointment of Deputy Fire Chief Alex Kukulus to the Emergency 911 Advisory Committee for a term of four years ending June 30, 2023.

Wildfires – The District’s first large-scale (about 1500 acres) wildfire impacting structures is burning in the Red Rock area with only minor containment to date, see  KOLO-8 coverage.

 

Reno City Council meeting (8/26/19); notes by Steve Wolgast

The city council voted unanimously to ask the Finance Department to prepare an ordinance approving the $55M bond request for the RSWRF plant expansion.  Council Member Brekhus was absent.  This is still a preliminary step, and does not oblige the city to issue the bonds.  The bond request will come up for a vote in October (probably).  This will allow more time to determine exactly how they will handle the increased effluent produced by the plant.  A “work committee” is being assembled that will be tasked with developing a plan and presenting it to the city council.  Conditions will be included in the finance ordinance including a cap on the effluent flow volume that can go to Swan Lake.

There was some ambiguity regarding the maximum effluent flow that will be permitted to be discharged into Swan Lake.  Director Flansberg said the current flow in the winter is approximately 1.8 million gallons per day (mgd).  Council member Duerr reiterated her condition that this be reduced by the diversion of 0.5 mgd to the TMWRF plant.  The inference is that the maximum net flow to Swan Lake should be 1.3 mgd this winter.  Flansberg said that NDEP would issue the permit for increasing the plant discharge after the construction on the plant expansion begins.  This sounds illogical.

Residents raised the following concerns during Public Comment.

  • Reno residents could consider changes enacted in Texas law that gives residents about to be annexed by a city the right to vote on the annexation.
  • There’s a lot of construction going on right now.  The city should allow time for the new housing capacity to be absorbed before rushing to approve more.
  • It’s premature to approve the RSWRF sewer bond.  There is no sure method now to dispose of the extra 2 mgd of effluent that will be produced.  There are a number of possible scenarios that could work, but all of them are speculative at this time.

Current construction viewed from the Steamboat Hills:   Wolgast_General_Comment_082619

Open issues facing the RSWRF expansion: Wolgast_Agenda-Item_D3_082619A

 

Endangered Example

The Washoe County Commission has consistently overturned the decisions of the Washoe Planning Commission when the Planning Commission denies a developer’s project.  The commissioners routinely praise the developers and development as being a solution to problems caused by development.  The Lemmon Drive Estates (also known as “The Lakes at Lemmon Valley”) stands as the exception to this rule.  It was denied by the Washoe Planning Commission on May 1, 2018.  The developer appealed and their appeal was heard by the Board of County Commissioners on November 13, 2018.  The county commissioners sided with the Planning Commission unanimously, and the developer (applicant) sued the county in district court.  The court (Judge Barry Breslow) decided for the developer instructing the county to approve the tentative map for this project (July 19, 2019 ?, court record).  It appears that the judge did not grasp the safety issue that was central to the original denial.  Tuesday, the county commissioners decided to appeal the district court decision to the Nevada Supreme Court 3-1 (Herman, Lucey, Hartung for, Bergbigler against, and Jung absent). (Agenda) (Video)

Public Comment

  • Mess at Scott’s Ranch (Lemmon Valley) is not getting cleaned up by the county.  Disintegrated Hesco barrier is not cleaned up.
  • The county is “top heavy” with too few workers and too many managers.  The county doesn’t keep it’s commitments to do maintenance.

District Attorney, Nate Edwards

  • A typical time frame for a Supreme Court appeal would be 1 to 1-1/2 years.
  • The developer has filed a request with the court to recoup legal costs of $45,000.
  • There is a pending transaction (sale?) regarding this property depending on the outcome of the legal proceedings.
  • Does the County think it’s important enough to defend its jurisdiction to go forward with the appeal knowing that it would be liable for increasing legal expenses and also damage claims by the developer for delaying the project?

Developer’s Attorney, Stephen Mollath

  • The stewardship of the county should be to follow the zoning and the applicable laws.
  • There’s no zoning change or special use permit required.  It’s a simple tentative map.
  • The ingress and egress issues were wrongly decided by the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners.
  • He recommends the developer seek damages for the delay that would be caused by the appeal.

Commissioner Discussion

Berkbigler “Why was right-in, right out the key point in the litigation?”  Edwards “This was the dominant issue in the Planning Commission’s decision.  This is likely to be the only issued emphasized in appeal.”  Berkbigler is concerned about the cost of possible damages if the county loses on appeal, but is also concerned about adding more housing with the flooding issues not fully addressed.  The county has approved “right-in, right-out” developments in other locations.

Public Comment

  • The developer’s attorney was disingenuous claiming that it was important to proceed with development while admitting that the plan was to sell the property.
  • This developer has not abided by regulations having gone into an area that was to be undisturbed in order to acquire rock for another development.
  • Right-in/right-out access will not be practical for fire engine access.
  • There were many issues to this case beyond ingress and egress that were not argued in the case.

Commissioner Discussion

Berkbigler shares the concern regarding fire engine access with the right-in/right-out configuration.  She asks if the additional conditions can be added to the approval of the development at this point.  Paul Lipparelli answered that the court ordered that the county approved the tentative map.  Additional conditions will be applied to complete the final map, but these are not discretionary.  The conditions you’re considering would normally go with a special use permit.

Lucey asserts that the original decisions denying the project were valid.  There were several reasons to deny this project, not just the ingress and egress issue.  The planning function belongs to the county with its open forum, not in a courtroom with only a judge deciding.

Hartung agreed with Lucey.  He is not comfortable with a judge overturning a planning decision.  He thinks the original decision was correct.  He knows there are a number of right-in/right-out developments and knows of many that have failed miserably and for that reason we have decided to move away from utilizing this scheme.  RTC was not willing to implement a better configuration.  The intersections are too close for each one to get a traffic signal.  There were more problems than just the traffic including the run-off handling and the incompatibility with adjacent properties.

Herman opposed the project since we did not have the sewer capacity to support this development and this is still not addressed.

Berkbigler agrees with the points made by the others, but thinks the fiscal risk of losing an expensive appeal is too great.

Public Comment

  • The appeal is the right move by the county.
  • Culverts in Lemmon Valley are full of weeds that are the county’s responsibility to maintain.  Mr. Solaro does not respond to requests to his office.

Perspective

This is a telling moment.  The only development project denied by the Board of County Commissioners (in the last two years) was overturned.  If the developers get their way in this case, it means that they get approved 100% of the time.  At the South Valleys CAB meeting on June 14, 2018, county planner Roger Pelham was challenged to name a single development project that the county had denied.  The only example he could think of was Lemmon Drive Estates.  The county must fight this vigorously, or they must admit they have no say in how development proceeds or in the consequences to the homeowners and the taxpayers.  Mr. Edwards’ tepid assertions don’t inspire confidence.

 

Reno … in for Half a Billion $ ?

At the meeting on August 14, the Reno City Council focused on North Valley sewer infrastructure. (AGENDA) (VIDEO)

  • The city council approved a contract with HDR Engineering to study the feasibility of building a new reservoir for effluent in the Red Rock Road area north and east of the Stead Airport for $1M. The estimated reservoir cost is $90M.
  • The city council overturned the Reno Planning Commission denial of a special use permit to expand the RSWRF waste water facility in Lemmon Valley.
  • The city council approved a request to the Washoe Debt Management Commission to review Reno’s request for a $55M bond to expand the RSWRF waste water facility. At least two more city council approvals will be required for the bond to issued.
  • The city approved a contract to do the detailed design work for the RSWRF expansion for $485,000.

Council-member Brekhus expressed concern that the combined North-Valleys sewer expansion costs (including TMWRF improvements, a new reservoir, American Flat irrigation, and Beddell Flat injection) could approach half a billion dollars. All these proposals were approved 5-1 with Schieve absent and Brekhus opposed.

This meeting started at 10:00 AM with a “time certain” commitment to cover the appeal of the Planning Commission decision to deny the RSWRF plant expansion after 6:00 PM.

Public Comment:

  • The moratorium is needed for the North Valleys and should have been approved by the council.
  • There is an inadequate storm water system in the North Valleys. They should not be importing more water.
  • The city council meeting on August 6 was an overflow crowd. Some residents were not able to speak because they couldn’t get in. This is in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
  • HDR’s engineers were misleading and misinformed in their testimony in the Class-Action Lawsuit of the Lemmon Valley neighbors. The HDR firm is not a good candidate for this new contract.

Agenda item B.9 is the approval of a contract to HDR to do a feasibility study for the proposed reservoir.

Council discussion;

  • Reese asked about HDR’s suitability for this contract. Flansberg (Reno Public Works) “HDR is one of the top 3 firms in the country for dam design.”
  • Duerr; “Who at HDR will be the principal for the new study?”
  • Flansberg; “It will be Noel Laughlin not Michael McMahon or Mark Forest who testified in the class-action suit.”
  • Noel Laughlin; “We’ll be looking at geotechnical issues (earthquake hazard) as well as seepage issues. The reservoir volume will be approximately 3,500 acre feet.”

Agenda item B.14 is the resolution to put a $55M bond proposal on the list for the Washoe County Debt Commission to consider.

Council Discussion;

Brekhus:

  • The sewer connection fees paid by developers in 2018 was $12M while debt payments on this new bond could be $10M per year.
  • The RSWRF plant only currently supports 6,000 customers.
  • These debt payments will be an impediment to many projects that have been planned. The council should look at the fiscal issues in a broader sense before taking on more debt from this bond.
  • The coming bond to improve the TMWRF treatment plant is likely to be an additional $200M.
  • She asked that the council members not take their sights off the impact this will have to sewer fees to customers that have had dramatic increases recently.
    Brekhus is opposed to this piecemeal approach to the sewer issues without agreement on a plan of the larger scope.
  • There should be discussion with Washoe County to close the LVWRF plant and bring their users to the RSWRF plant which produces Class-A effluent instead of Class-C effluent.

Duerr;

  • She wants a new “work committee” to look into the North Valleys sewer infrastructure plan including a new sewer rate structure. She wants to see this committee report before a new RSWRF bond would be approved.
  • She is chair of the Debt Management Commission and this request would be reviewed as to the city’s capacity to handle the additional debt. She was emphatic that the proposal is not an approval of the bond, but rather a request for the Debt Commission to review the proposal.

Debbie Lauchner; (Reno Director of Finance)

  • She said that the city could borrow at 2.14% (as of 8/14) and that the annual payments would be closer to $3.9M for a long term bond.

Agenda item I.2; John Flansberg is appealing the decision by the Planning Commission to deny them a zoning change that would allow the plant to expand to 4 million gallons per day (mgd) capacity from 2 mgd capacity .

Council Discussion:

Brekhus;

  • She presented a rough map showing the planned developments and asked which would be expected to be served by the expanded RSWRF plant. Some of these developments have been approved, but some are still tentative. There was no definitive answer for which areas would be served by the expanded waste water plant.
  • “The short term plan to send 0.5 mgd to TMWRF through the ‘flow-shave’ pipeline now appears to be up in the air. The reservoir plan is the interim plan. The long term plan is the injection of water into the aquifer. The injection project in Beddell Flats is yielding mixed results. It appears that this ‘interim solution’ may be the only solution. I’m concerned about the costs. How much will the new reservoir cost?”

Flansberg;

  • “We estimate $90M.”

Brekhus;

  • ” That’s a lot more than I would have thought. So, if we need $55M for the RSWRF expansion plus $90M for the reservoir plus a budget request for a major TMWRF expansion, we could be looking at half a billion dollars total. We presently only have about $50M in sewer bond debt. There is no way that the city will recoup $90M for the reservoir. This is going to be taking funds from infill projects to the urban core as specified in our Master Plan.
  • Does the Master Plan build out in the North Valleys require this expansion?
  • Now, I hear that the flow shave (diversion of sewage to TMWRF from RSWF) may not even happen.”

Duerr:

  • “My condition is that the expansion of RSWRF does not increase the flow of effluent into Swan Lake. Public Works needs to explore the possible uses of Class-A and Class-A+ water. Is there a plan to get to Class-A+ water?”

Flansberg;

  • “Class-A+ water can be achieved with additional filtration and UV treatment.”

Duerr;

  • “We need to coordinate with Washoe County since they will have increasing needs for waste water treatment with their developments.”

Brekhus;

  • “This expansion means doubling the amount of water imported into the valleys.”

Flansberg;

  • “Building to the North Valleys zoning may require 8-9mgd capacity in the long run.
  • There is no plan to increase the permitted discharge volume to Swan Lake (approved by NDEP).
  • “We need the plant expansion so that we have some redundancy in our system in case some part of the facility needs maintenance.”

Brekhus;

  • “How about we just have a CIP (Continuous Improvement Program) project for RSWRF to improve the technology and efficiency at a much lower cost than this expansion?”
  • “How are things going with your ‘science project’ of re-injecting water into the aquifer?”

Flansberg;

  • “We have determined that the American Flats injection site can take 2mgd of injection for up to 5 years. After that, we will need to be consuming some of the water stored in the aquifer or it will impact Silver Lake.”
  • “The project to inject water in the Beddel Flats looks promising.”
  • “The discharge permit for RSWRF allows for Class-C effluent, but we discharge to Class-A”.

Public Comment;

  • The flume overflow of RSWRF with Silver Lake runoff shows that RSWRF doesn’t have good data to make sound decisions.
  • There is presently no plan for the problematic LVWRF plant. It should be decommissioned.
  • Water injected into American Flats is showing up in Swan Lake as shown by a dye test.

To overturn the Planning Commission denial, the city council would have to make all the “findings” that are normally required for approval.

Duerr said she could make all the findings and moved to overturn the Reno Planning Commission denial with the following additional conditions.

  • No additional discharge to Swan Lake with the expansion.
  • Retention volume on the plant to be 1.5x the expected additional runoff.

Duerr had additional “aspirational goals”.

  • Develop the capability to produce Class-A+ water. This can be discussed at the time that funding is discussed.
  • Work with the county for a coordinated plan including decommissioning the LVWRF plant.
  • Work with developers as part of a broader effort.

Brekhus can’t make the findings; this is in part due to the growth that the expansion will support.

  • Finding “A” is not met: the expansion may not be compatible with the neighborhoods.
  • Finding “B” is not met: expanding the plant will diminish the quality of life there.
  • Finding “C” is not met: the roads and emergency services will not support the expansion.
  • Finding “E” is not met: the expansion does not protect the environment.
  • This expansion of service for development depends on the water injection process which is so far not proven.

At the end of the meeting, agenda item B.10 was addressed. This is a contract to proceed with the detailed design of the RSWRF plant expansion with a contract to Stantec Engineering for $481,210. Brekhus argued that the city was taking steps that were likely to commit the city to major expenditures when the big issues are not settled.

EDITORIAL COMMENT …

Why not …

  • Impose a moratorium on new water and sewer hookups.
  • Get the “flow shave” line from RSWRF to TMWRF operating.
  • Determine which customers the expanded RSWRF plant would serve.
  • Work out the details on how the American Flats irrigation project will work.
  • Wait for results to confirm that the Beddell Flats injection scheme is viable.
  • Get better cost information on all of the projects.
  • Find out how the city could coordinate with the county.
  • Make an informed decision on how to proceed.

Who benefits from this hasty, risky approach?

HDR: Partner in Crime?

Regarding Agenda Item B-9 for Reno City Council 8/14/19

I have grave concerns about granting further contracts to the HDR engineering firm.

HDR Engineer Michael McMahon testified for the city and against the neighbors in the Lemmon Valley Class Action suit on June 19.  He’s a hydro-meteorologist who testified that the rainfall in the winter of 2016 was the worst on record.  His testimony didn’t hold up under cross examination.  His methods were sloppy and didn’t support his conclusions.  He didn’t even want to agree to points he’d made in his deposition.

HDR Engineer Mark Forest testified for the city and against the neighbors in the Lemmon Valley Class Action suit on June 20.  He testified as an expert hydrologist.  His runoff calculations assumed that only 18% or rainfall would run off of developed properties.  The Truckee Meadows Regional Drainage Manual indicates that 65% of rainfall runs off of developed properties.  Forest did not review or corroborate his work with anyone.  Forest did not know that the retention basins specified by Reno for new developments were never built.  He was glib in court and was admonished by the judge.

Reno and HDR lost.  The case they made was not credible.  But, Reno paid HDR $325,000 to support the case against the neighbors.  So, HDR’s engineers are either dishonest or incompetent.   I can’t discern which.  But, there is no reason to be confident that the Reno taxpayers will be well served by their services.

The “Reno Good Old Boy Network” is a euphemism for “quid pro quo”.  Giving HDR a new contract at this point looks like Reno is paying off a partner in malfeasance.

Silver Knolls Development Denied

Guest Post by Mike Lawson

Last Tuesday’s Washoe County Planning Commission meeting provided a pleasant departure from the malfeasance we have witnessed at recent Reno city council and Washoe County commission meetings.As should be expected, the Washoe county planning commissioners did their due diligence in investigating applicant claims that their proposed project would benefit the existing neighborhood at Silver Knolls.

Despite the contention from Fire Chief Moore that fire protection should be the least of the County’s concerns, thoughtful citizens and planning commissioners recognized the truth of the existing response time (over 18 minutes) would not improve simply because new homes were proposed to be built. Chief Moore in later testimony claimed he had no special interest in the project (despite his earlier advocating for it) but offered conflicting testimony about when fire-fighting resources would be allocated to the north. In one breath he claimed he was not getting anything from the developer and in the next said the developer was willing to provide money for new infrastructure. The most puzzling part of chief Moore’s testimony was when he admitted response time would be reduced from 18 minutes to 2 minutes by moving an existing station, then saying he would do it when the demand was there. Seems to me and the residents of the north valleys that the demand is already there without the “new” homes, so what the hell is the delay?

Community advocate Russel Earl provided the most thoughtful testimony in public comment by providing an alternative traffic study commissioned and paid for by the community that rebutted the applicant traffic study. This is a prime example of not being able to trust engineering and other reports bought and paid for by applicants and it is an issue the county hopes will go away. As neighborhood activists we must continue to be diligent in questioning the veracity of these reports that serve the few at a cost to the many. Mr. Earl also mentioned the cost of development is not covered by the fees the developers pay despite continued assertions made by the applicant and offered a specific example about the Red Rock road expansion. Having served on the Regional Road Impact Fee technical advisory committee for RTC the past two years I can corroborate Mr. Earls contention in this regard. After they get credit for their “offsets costs” that go to building the local roads internal to the subdivisions they are profiting from, there is very little “money” that actually goes to regional road improvements.  And, while developers really don’t even pay their fair share to the impact on regional roads, they pay NOTHING for impacts to the State Highway system (e.g, US 395 etc.), schools, police and fire staffing, etc. If we had responsible elected officials at the city and county level, they would require supporting documentation that a specific development pays for itself rather than continuing to support and parrot that unsubstantiated claim every time a new development comes before them for approval.

Beyond Mr. Earl’s testimony, there was considerable public input that was poignant and relevant but much too exhaustive to cover here. There were also a few public comments made in favor of the proposal mostly centered on jobs and value to people who do not LIVE here yet. It was not surprising the “public” support for the development came from those that either worked directly for the applicant or those that would financially profit from it.

Newly elected Chairman Larry Chesney made a succinct argument that he could NOT make ANY of the findings required for approval, that the application flew in the face of an area plan prepared by the EXISTING community, and that there was no way he could support it. The Planning commission voted unanimously to DENY the proposal and to DENY the zoning change.

I am encouraged by the critical thinking demonstrated by the Washoe County Planning commissioners and can only hope it is a sign that all future development will be more carefully scrutinized.

Plan to De-water Swan Lake 8/6/19

The dais was packed with all the Reno City Council members and the Washoe County commissioners present (Jardon on the phone).  Arranged before them were the trustees of the Reno/Tahoe Airport Authority.  There were multiple clerks, managers, and attorneys too.  The audience was mostly full with a mix of neighbors and developers and government principals.

The issue was a proposal by the City of Reno to run a pipeline from Swan Lake north through the Stead Airport property to a vacant property on American Flat Rd owned by Washoe County.  This plan was approved by the Reno City Council, the Washoe County Commission, and the Airport Authority.

Elements of the plan:

  • Reno will pay for the above-ground pipeline.
  • Reno will plan to irrigate (not mist) crops yet to be identified.
  • Reno hopes to have the pipeline functioning for the “next irrigation season”.
  • Washoe County will provide the use of the property for no charge (479 acres).
  • Washoe County will provide unspecified funds up to $2.5M against project costs.  My misunderstanding: Washoe County will provide unspecified funds against costs incurred relating to the flooding, but will not be contributing to the new irrigation project.
  • The Airport Authority will provide for a temporary easement up to three years at no charge.

Actions: (agenda items)

5.1 Presentation by Dean Schultz about the proposed easement.

(Airport_Easement_080619)

5.2 Presentation by John Flansberg (Reno) describing the temporary pipeline plan and a proposed agreement between Reno and the Airport Authority.

Irrigation_Project_080619  

5.3 Presentation by John Flansberg (Reno) describing a proposed agreement between Reno and the Airport Authority for the project.   This was approved unanimously by the city council and approved 3-1 by Washoe County with Jung absent and Herman opposed.

Staff-Report_easement_080619

5.4 Proposal to request bids and award contracts up to $3,000,000 to proceed with the project.  This was passed unanimously by the city council.

Staff-Report_irrigation_080619

5.5 County recommendation to affirm the use of proceeds from the sale of water rights in FY-17 ($2.5M approx.) for costs associated with the lake management strategies.  This was approved 4-0 (Jung absent).

Details:

  • The Airport Authority can issue a temporary easement for the pipeline without FAA approval.  If they put it underground or keep it past 5 years it becomes “permanent” and requires FAA approval and reconsideration by the Airport Authority.
  • The airport does not want crops grown on the airport property because it might attract wildlife and birds.
  • The Washoe County property was purchased as a buffer for the air races and intended to be vacant.
  • A previous variant of this plan would have misted the water into an aerosol form for accelerated evaporation.  This was strongly opposed due to the risk of the contaminating neighborhoods in the area.
  • The design and analysis of the project will be done by the Reno internally.
  • The estimate is that the irrigation would remove 600-1,000 acre-feet of water from Swan Lake each year.
  • Washoe County samples and analyzes water from Swan Lake monthly.  Neither Reno nor TMWA samples the Swan Lake water.

Open Issues:

  • What crops will Reno grow?  Alfalfa is suggested, but the soil conditions are unknown.
  • The costs of operating this farm are unknown.
  • The technical issues of selecting and growing a crop are unknown.
  • There is currently no regular testing of the lake water by Reno (Delgado).  Reno does not do testing of the water in Swan Lake.  It was previously done by the Washoe County Health District and is now done by the Environmental Health Services Department in the County.  Do we even know if it’s suitable for irrigation?  The county does testing according to Duane Smith and the water is suitable for recreation.  This is hard to believe.
  • Will Reno have a new Department of Agriculture to manage the property and the crop?
  • Who will maintain the sprinklers and harvest the crop?
  • Will Reno be able to sell the crop, or will it be too contaminated to sell?
  • What happens after five years?  If it’s removed, will it cause flooding again in Swan Lake after three five years of breakneck development?
  • Who (among these officials) has a financial interest in these properties north of the airport?

Commissioners/Council Members

Brekhus (Reno) expressed concern that we don’t know what it will cost to start and operate this agricultural enterprise.  She is also concerned that the science questions have not been answered relating to the project.  She thinks that the pipeline may represent part of the infrastructure required by the proposed Evans Ranch development.  She is concerned that the taxpayers may be funding infrastructure that benefits private parties (Peter Lissner of Life Style Homes, Bill Thomas, Reno City Assistant Manager).

Duerr (Reno) expressed thanks to Washoe County for the use of the property, but would like to know if the county would also provide some funding since they have a stake in development in the North Valleys.  TMWA has reported that they see high levels of Arsenic and total coliform bacteria in the Swan Lake water.

Reese (Reno) wants to know how the council and residents can conveniently access scientific data relating to the health and safety of residents.

Vaughan (Washoe County) pointed out that Washoe County has already spent $7.5M on flood control and other measures in Lemmon Valley.

Schieve (Reno) would like to see some independent sampling of the water in Swan Lake.

Herman (Washoe County) expects it may take 10 years to get the water level low enough to remove the Hesco barriers.  She made the point that the greatest need to dispose of Swan Lake water is in the rainy season when most crops won’t need to be watered.  She asked if there was a possibility that this pipeline might be used to flow water in the opposite direction into Swan Lake.

Lucey (Washoe County) thinks it will be necessary for the city and county to work together on multiple solutions projects to avoid flooding.

Concerns raised by residents:

  • Will the bacteria and and algae and contaminants in the lake water become airborne and contaminate neighborhoods?  One speaker showed photos taken that day showing that the thick green algae is now intermingled with dark red algae.  One speaker brought two quart jars of lake water that resembled coffee.  She suggested the council members might want to take off the lid and take a whiff.  One speaker offered any council member a tour of the area.
  • This plan like others proposed is a “band aid”.  The city needs a long term solution producing Class-A+ water out of RSWRF.
  • It’s been three years of flooding.  The city needs to act quickly now.
  • The soil under the lake is saturated and needs to dry out to handle new absorption.  The “water year” starts October 1.
  • Other cities around the country are able to treat effluent to the Class-A+ standard.  It should not require new research in Reno to achieve this result.
  • The scope of this agriculture project is very small relative to the scale of the runoff due to development and increased RSWRF effluent.

Meeting Video