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An eye on the sky
by Sarah Cooper
Jan 03, 2009 | 1143 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune file/Debra Reid</a> - Evidence remains of flood damage inside Bear Industries Printing & Publishing. "We tried to push more work their way to help them re-bound," Wolf Pack Edge magazine editor Paul Klein said. "Everyone pulled together."
Tribune file/Debra Reid - Evidence remains of flood damage inside Bear Industries Printing & Publishing. "We tried to push more work their way to help them re-bound," Wolf Pack Edge magazine editor Paul Klein said. "Everyone pulled together."
Ed Sumner walks into work every morning with his mind on the day's business, all but breezing by the foot-high water stains on his desk.

Sumner purchased Bear Printing and Publishing near the Sparks industrial area this April, impressed by the building's low rent. History, however, has shown that the low rent may come at a heart-stopping cost.

In January 1997, the waters rushed over the banks of the Truckee River and submerged some parts of the Sparks industrial area along Glendale Avenue and McCarran Boulevard beneath several feet of water. The deluge left $500 million in damage and two deaths in its wake, writing an unparalleled page in the area's history books on which flood engineers still base their calculations.

Although the 1997 event was the worst the area had seen in many years, the rush of water did not stop in subsequent years.

In 2005, the area saw a flood that experts say only comes around twice every 100 years. The New Year's Day flood of 2005 dumped more than four feet of water into the Sparks industrial area and prompted both the cities of Sparks and Reno to declare a state of emergency in search of federal assistance.

Businesses in the Sparks industrial area have piled on the sandbags every January since. The shadows of multiple floods are still visible in the faded lines on Sumner's desks.

"Historically, the area where the Sparks industrial area lies was swamp and marsh lands," said Jay Aldean, deputy director for the Truckee River flood project. "The Truckee River was not confined as it is today and was able to meander throughout this area and change course continuously. This area is also the lowest point in the Truckee Meadows and thus is the area with the most potential for deep-water flooding."

Sumner said that he knew before purchasing the business that he was facing a flood liability.

"We like the fairly inexpensive rent here," Sumner said. "But with potential flooding, it adds cost. Even if you have flood insurance, you are still going to end up paying a lot of money."

Sumner said that his heart got a pretty good jolt when he heard the news of recent flooding in the Midwest. Before he heard the details of the TV news report, Sumner thought it could be his business.

"I'm just gonna hope it doesn't flood," said John Schultz, owner of the Chop Shop on Greg Street.

Schultz also just took ownership of his Sparks industrial area motorcycle business this year, moving from Matley Lane in Reno to take advantage of cheaper rent.

"Moving here was simply because of the economics," Schultz said.

While Schultz said that he could quickly move his inventory onto tables and higher ground to avoid flood damage, Sumner said that his heavy printing equipment is significantly more prone to flood damage.

"When we purchased the business we knew there had been floods here so we did our due diligence and we carry flood insurance," Sumner said.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the average annual cost of flood insurance for a business in the Sparks industrial area ranges from around $900 for basic coverage to more than $11,000 for more comprehensive coverage.

The Truckee River flood project is looking at an investment that could top $235 million and have a direct effect on the Sparks industrial area.

The north Truckee drain realignment project and the living river flood management parkway project are both aimed at diverting water away from businesses.

The north Truckee river drain portion of the project would divert waters from a “bottleneck” at a spot that city planners call the Vista Narrows.

“It is hydraulically a highly congested area of the river,” JoAnn Meacham, utility manager for the city of Sparks, said after a City Council meeting last summer discussing the project.

She added that as a part of the flood control project, the drain realignment will provide almost one foot of flood-depth reduction. The drain realignment alone would reduce the level of the waters in the event of a flood, regardless of the other aspects of the flood control project, Meacham said in her report to the City Council.

However, the north Truckee drain realignment project is still waiting for design approval, which is anticipated to come in February, Aldean said.

"In general, the land and construction impacts will be realized most directly by the industries on Larkin Circle and Kleppe Lane between Sparks Boulevard and Greg Street," Aldean said of the drain alignment project. "Construction of the north Truckee drain will generally require a portion of Larkin Circle to be torn up for placement of the new underground drain. Similar disruption will occur in the back yards of several businesses on Kleppe Lane."

The geographic extent of the living river project is still in the research stages, making its way onto the flood mitigation scene late last year.

"Before any ideas are presented to the public, the flood project and Sparks city staffs will be working closely with the Corps of Engineering to investigate the most reasonable approach for this project and then present this information to the stakeholders for further comment, refinement and acceptance," Aldean said.

In order to receive its funding, the living river project would have to prove that it could provide a stand-alone benefit to the area. That project is still muddling through a slow scrutiny process from the Army Corp of Engineers.

"Ultimately, the whole Truckee River Flood Project will include combinations of levee and flood wall facilities, which will help protect Sparks," Aldean said. "In addition, new pumping stations will also be included to address the storm water generated in the north of Sparks and Sun Valley areas and protect residential, commercial and industrial establishments throughout Sparks."

Flood control project manager Paul Urban has been watching the Truckee River for almost 10 years. According to his colleagues, he knows the ebbs and flows better than anyone on the team. As of Friday afternoon, according to Urban, the chance of another flooding event was fairly slim.

"Snow pack is below normal right now," Urban said, adding that a flood similar to the one in 2005 has a 2-in-100-year chance of happening.

"But you look at how the weather changes," Urban continued. "There is a chance of new weather coming in (and causing a flood)."

As the clouds rolled in Friday and the flood project continued to roll along, Sumner is still keeping a close eye on his business.

"I don't know what else I can do," he said.

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