What’s Being Done To Address Flooding At Swan Lake

Sep 17, 2019

Different solutions have been proposed to reduce water levels from the flooded Swan Lake in Lemmon Valley, a battle that has been affecting nearby residents since 2017. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck spoke with ThisisReno’s Bob Conrad about what’s been done, what can be expected, and how some residents are feeling.

A map of existing flood barriers constructed around Swan Lake presented on August 27, 2019 at a Washoe County meeting by Washoe County Engineer Dwayne Smith.

Measures are currently in place to mitigate the floodwaters at Swan Lake, including HESCO flood barriers surrounding the lake, which stand four feet high and extend four miles around the lake, according to Washoe County. Additionally, there are pumps located around the lake to put excess water that’s collected back into the lake, according to a recent press release from the county.

ThisisReno’s Bob Conrad has been covering this issue, following meetings and talking to residents.

“We’ve seen, basically, a tremendous amount of moisture, and that has, basically, flooded Swan Lake to the point where it's gone into people's homes. It's affected the livelihoods of Lemmon Valley residents and, basically, just caused a pretty big problem out there for the people that live out there. They're very frustrated,” Conrad said.

The county has now proposed the construction of a pipeline. This pipeline will feed out of Swan Lake to water newly created agricultural fields. The project will cost $2.5 million in county funds from the sales of water rights, Conrad reports. It is expected to take three-to-five years to reduce the water level of Swan Lake to a point that it’s no longer affecting residents nearby.

According to Conrad, residents have been concerned about more than the flooding. Questions have been raised about the quality of water in Swan Lake. Reno/Stead Water Reclamation Facility has been surrounded by floodwaters; it is treating water coming in and feeding water into Swan Lake. The county assures that the water is safe for recreational purposes and is similar to that of Washoe Lake, the Sparks Marina and Virginia Lake.

Existing HESCO barriers along Swan Lake on Lemmon Drive in Lemmon Valley.
Credit Bob Conrad / ThisisReno

In addition, North Valleys residents want to see a moratorium on development around Swan Lake. Some residents say that development is increasing the amount of impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces can include roads and parking lots that repel water, instead of letting it soak into the ground. As a result, the water gathers. Residents say that development has caused flooding and other impacts.

“A lot of people who live in those areas see the impacts of development,” Conrad said. “If there's an accident on 395 heading out to the North Valleys on any given day, it can back up traffic for a long ways, for a long time, and the more that gets developed out there, obviously, the more traffic there's going to be. The residents would like to see a halt to development. The City of Reno has not gone there yet, and they are actually relying on developers to help with some of these infrastructure impacts--widening lanes, raising Lemmon Drive, and all those kinds of things," Conrad said. 

Some of the Washoe County staff and contractors have actually been facing harassment while working to maintain the existing flood barriers, Conrad wrote in his most recent article. Washoe County Engineer Dwayne Smith spoke about this issue at a Washoe County Commission meeting on August 27.

A graph of county spending on flood responses presented on August 27, 2019 at a Washoe County Commission meeting by Washoe County Engineer Dwayne Smith.

“This has been a concern of mine, and also I’ve heard it voiced by the City of Reno. We have concerns for our field staff. There’s been a lot of swerving of cars when we’ve had guys out working, guys and gals out working. They’ve been swerving and splashing our guys,” Smith said. “We’ve had staff come in and tell us there’s been a lot of flipping of people off and yelling obscenities at them.”

There is no official timeline for when the flooding issue at Swan Lake will be solved. Washoe County has spent $11.5 million since 2017 on countywide flood responses, with $8.8 million being devoted to Swan Lake.