Team wanted lower flow for canal that failed Fernley

RENO -- The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's own risk assessment team recommended water flows at less than half the level currently channeled through an irrigation canal that broke and flooded about 600 homes in Fernley in January, two experts testified Tuesday.

The recommendation from a 12-member team of scientists that flows be capped at 150 cubic feet per second ultimately was overruled by a two-member team that determined flows up to 350 cubic feet per second were acceptable primarily because the risk of loss of life in the event of another failure was quite low.

But Edward Porter, a geological engineer testifying on behalf of flood victims, said he agreed with the original recommendation based on structural weaknesses he has observed in the canal embankment.

"Based on my observations, I think we were very lucky not to have lost lives," Porter said during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Lloyd George.

The hearing was a continuation of a proceeding that began last week. George continued it again because the U.S. Attorney's Office, representing the bureau, and lawyers for the Truckee Carson Irrigation District have additional witnesses they want to call. The date has not yet been set.

"The bureau's own experts agreed with us, but they were overruled by people who want more water in the canal," said Bob Hager, a lawyer representing flood victims.

Hager is seeking a restraining order to limit flows at a maximum of 250 cubic feet per second.

No one was killed in the Jan. 5 flood about 30 miles east of Reno. But 590 homes were flooded, including an estimated 140 homes that sustained moderate to severe damage.

Officials for the Truckee Carson Irrigation District argue that cutting flows below 350 cubic feet per second would have an significant adverse economic affect on about 2,000 farmers and ranchers.