UPPER SOUTH EAST COMMUNITIES COALITION, INC - Environmental Preservation Group in Washoe County

About Flooding 

For reference, in what we are going to be talking about here, the flood stage on the Truckee is 11 feet.  Flood stage on Steamboat Creek is 4.5 feet. 

Since 1900 

So, we would like to start by reviewing the 100 year floods that have occurred just since 1900. 
March 1907

was one of those floods.  The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service supplied by NOAA indicates that this flood was the 6th highest crest on the Truckee River at 12.74 feet.  According to the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources, major flooding occurred along the Truckee River and within the City of Reno.  This was a primarily rain on snow event, although snow surveys have not been developed yet.  The storm built in intensity over the period of several days and over 7 inches of rain fell in about 3 days, melting all the snow in lower elevations.  Since there were nothing but farms and ranches in the areas south of the railroad tracks and east of what is now the airport (the upper south east Reno flood plain) there is very little documentation of what damaged occurred there.  

January 1909

There was another major flood event on the Truckee River.  This one is number 11 on the NOAA scale.  There were reports of much damage and devastation downtown and in Sparks, however, again, lack of population in the area of what is now the UNR Main Station Field Laboratory, led to lack of reporting about just what went on there.  Since this was long before the Vista Reefs were channeled out, one can assume that these floods must have been devastating in the flood plain and that ranches and farms were heavily impacted.  

March 1928

There is another devastating flood downtown.  If you go on "you tube" and search Reno Flood 1927, or you can view this video at our "video" tab and you will see several minutes of very historical footage that was shot downtown.  It is also made clear that the date of the footage is wrong and the flood occurred in 1928.  Again, it can be assumed, that if it was flooding that much downtown, it was flooding more at the location where the now UNR Main Station Field Laboratory sits.  The upper south east Reno flood plain. 

December 11 1937

According to the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources, major flooding occurred in the Truckee Meadows with a Truckee River peak of 15,500 cfs (cubic feet per second) through downtown Reno.  The storm system, while relatively short in duration, was very heavy in precipitation and widespread on a great many stream systems in western Nevada.  12.83 inches of rain fell on Donner Summit in 3 days.  Of those 12.83 inches, 10.80 inches fell in just two days.  There was a significant amount of water in the area where the (now) Sparks industrial area is, and where the (now) UNR Main Station Lab is.
November 1950

Just before Thanksgiving.  This flood is number two (2) on the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (which is NOAA) scale with a crest of 15.22 feet.   Some footage available on our "videos" tab.  Major flooding and property damage occurred in Reno and in the Truckee Meadows with the Truckee River reaching a flow rate of 19,900 cfs at the Virginia Street Bridge in downtown Reno.  Nine days of rain fell from November 13 to November 21.  About 13 inches fell at Lake Tahoe.  Since Reno was getting bigger, this event caused far more damage than any other event since records started being kept in 1864.    

December 3 and 4  1950 

Ten days after the November 1950 event, rains returned to the Truckee Meadows and dropped another 4 inches of rain at Truckee and 4.25 at Lake Tahoe.  The Truckee River rose again with minor flooding downtown and then quickly receded. 
December of 1955

Downtown Reno Christmas 1955

Reno is about to be hit with a devastating Christmas time flood.  Despite 1997 being more devastating in terms of damage, this flood is number one (1) on the NOAA scale with a crest of 15.72 feet downtown.   On December 16 the first of several wet storms came through.  It rained for five days in a steady stream but forecasters reported that there were no “menacing” storms on the horizon.  It was only five years since the 1950 event and the people of Reno decided that this time would be different.  They were going to prepare as if something else was coming.  Late on December 22, forecasters corrected themselves and reported to the media that a very intense storm was on the way.  After five days of steady rain, more was coming.  It rained two additional inches in Reno in 24 hours.  It rained five more inches in the upper Truckee watershed.  Blue Canyon got 9.31 inches in 24 hours.  Downtown recorded 20,800 cfs.  A catastrophic amount of water.  Of course, all the usual places flooded and were damaged and covered with debris.  It was reported that many buildings and homes in the floodplain of south east Reno were swamped.  Water did not recede so quickly this time.  It lingered for days.

February 1, 1963

Just so you don’t think that floods only happen in wet years, let’s talk about February 1, 1963.  This flood is number three (3) on the NOAA scale with a crest of 14.40 feet on the Truckee downtown, and is number four (4) on the Steamboat Creek Historical Crest Scale at 4.92 feet.  According to the USGS, as late as January 27, 1963, California and western Nevada were experiencing one of their worst winter droughts in 100 years.  The water year had started auspiciously with record-breaking rains in northern California in early October.  However, very little precipitation was recorded during the following months and there was mounting concern for the water supply for summer as December and January passed without the usual storms.  The first rainfall occurred on January 28 to end the record-breaking 42 day winter drought. Intense precipitation began on the evening of January 29.  On January 30 there was a massive warm front sitting over the Sierra’s.  The rains stopped on February 2.  In a 72 hour period there were reports from various areas in the Sierra’s of an average of 20 inches of rain.  The east flank of the Sierra’s averaged about 12 inches.  In the valley it is estimated that up to 4 inches fell.  It was a general belief at the time that if the new Prosser Reservoir was not there, then flooding could have been worse than 1955.  


This flood is number seven on the NOAA scale with a crest on the Truckee of 12.65 feet.  However, it is tied for number one on the Steamboat Creek Historical Crest scale as reported by NOAA (along with 2005) with a crest of 6.79 feet.  So this was more of a creek and ditch flood.  February of 1986 was one of the greatest and most widespread floods on record that devastated California and Nevada with phenomenal amounts of precipitation.  17 inches of rain fell in 10 days at Truckee.  34 inches of rain fell at Blue Canyon.  At higher altitudes 15-20 feet of snow fell with estimated 20-30 inches of water content.  Streams, creeks and ditches were overwhelmed.  Steamboat Creek was a raging river that led to a large lake in the flood plains and at UNR Main Station Field Lab.  In Hidden Valley dozens of wild horses were struggling in chest deep water.  Massive power outages were happening all over town.  A man died in Sparks when he was swept away in the North Truckee Drain.  


is actually number four (4) on the NOAA scale of Historical Crests for a flood on the Truckee.  It reached 14.30 on January 2 1997.  On the Steamboat Creek it was number three (3) with a crest of 6.03 feet.  However, it was number one (1) in cfs at 22,500 downtown.  It was, of course, devastating.  The airport flooded and closed, most all of the industrial areas of the time were inundated, I-80 was damaged and closed, and the Helms pit almost filled with flood waters and there was so much more damage.  Over $800 million in damages. 

Downtown Reno - Virginia Street bridge at the Mapes 1997
On every flood that has been talked about, it is documented or can be reasonably assumed, that flood waters ended up on the UNR MSFL and in the adjacent properties, sometimes for days.  This is the upper south east Reno flood plain. 

Development in the flood plain  

Development continued after the 1986 flood.  Just around and in the flood plain of upper south east Reno, out of all this development, which is over 100 properties, only a handful has any type of retention or detention.  In fact, many of the properties went out of their way to try and beat the system and make their own protection.  We are talking about developers who deliberately bring in more fill to protect their development because the fine was cheaper than the mitigation, businesses that have designed and built their landscaping as little berms to keep flood waters out of their properties.   Dozens and dozens and dozens of properties that were built without thought of how these new impervious surfaces will impact their existing neighbors. 


The Truckee River Flood Project has had its troubles.  Agreements about what is going to be built, what is going to be protected, how to pay for it, have all been hashed out over the years.  Is still being hashed out, but one thing has always been agreed on by Reno, Sparks, Washoe County and even the Corps.  The UNR Main Station Field Laboratory, the Rosewood Lakes Golf Course and the Butler Ranch North (upper south east Reno flood plain) would be, and is, designated as flood storage for the safety of the entire region.  

Since the early 70’s, the Army Corps of Engineers have been recommending limited building on the flood plain.  In the 1983 Draft Feasibility Report and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Corps recommends, in the upper south east Reno flood plain, limited building.  When are we going to start limiting?

During the decision process for the Double Diamond Area, it was determined by the Army Corps of Engineers that the very next development project in lower south Reno (downstream on Steamboat Creek) would trigger an automatic Environmental Impact Statement and Cumulative Impact Study.  The City of Reno just recently learned of this after almost the entire region has been developed.

The new Southeast Connector is going right through the Butler Ranch North, the Rosewood Lakes Golf Course and the UNR Main Station Field Laboratory.  On areas designated as FEMA "floodway". 

The Truckee River Flood Project states we need to “protect our protection”.  That should be a priority. The Truckee River Flood Project also asks “What affects flooding”?  The most important answers are “Changes in land use and increased impermeable surfaces” and “Fill in the flood plain means less storage volume”.  They go on to state that we need to “Maintain our level of protection” and “No Adverse Impact to Others”. 
                                         No adverse impact to others...... 

Rosewood Lakes HOA looking north into UNR Farms and Sparks 1997