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.


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


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.


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.


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).


  • 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



2 thoughts on “Plan to De-water Swan Lake 8/6/19

  1. Is onsight ( at swan lake) water treatment workable? Divide Swan into two ponds. Line one pond and pass the water from one pond to the lined pond through an arsenic extraction process (cooling and reverse osmosis) from one pond to the other. Or extract the arsenic on the way to the airport pond proposed and already contracted for. $ 3 million contract before so many question answered?


  2. Thank you for taking the time to break this information down into digestible pieces. It’s a shame this crisis is still being treated with band aids.

    On Thu, Aug 8, 2019, 6:05 AM Washoe Residents for Appropriate Planning wrote:

    > Steve Wolgast posted: “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” >


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