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;


  • 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.


  • 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:


  • 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?”


  • “We estimate $90M.”


  • ” 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.”


  • “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?”


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


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


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


  • “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.”


  • “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?”


  • “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.


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?

One thought on “Reno … in for Half a Billion $ ?

  1. Pingback: Sewer Bond Approved by the State | Washoe Residents for Appropriate Planning

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