Updated July 8, 2019 - 9:59 pm
Despite decades of dramatic improvements to the Las Vegas Valley’s flood control system, flash floods will always be dangerous.
That was the message the Regional Flood Control District conveyed at a news conference Monday, the 20th anniversary of a 100-year storm that caused millions of dollars in damage across the valley.
The district also released a virtual-reality experience to help teach young drivers about the dangers of flash floods.
The VR experience will be integrated into Clark County School District driver’s education classes and is available to private driving schools in the valley. As part of the experience, the viewer watches a flash flood strike without warning and becomes trapped inside a sedan that gets swept away.
Parts of the valley were drenched in more than 3 inches of rain in less than 90 minutes on July 8, 1999. The flood district was only eight years old and had just begun work on a network of channels, washes and basins to get a handle on summer flooding.
District chief engineer and general manager Steve Parrish said Monday that the valley’s flood control system still needs work but would be able to handle the same amount of rainfall today.
“But sometimes you become kind of a victim of your success,” North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron said. “And what I mean by ‘victim’ is we’ve become kind of complacent.”
Children and teens aren’t as aware as adults are about the dangers of flash floods because they’ve never seen them before, said Barron, who teaches at Rancho High School. He called the VR experience “innovative” and said that it would save lives.
“You know that young people are our most vulnerable residents, and they haven’t seen these big floods. Many of them are just now learning how to drive, and they don’t have that body of experience to help temper their judgment,” he said at the conference, which was held at the Clark County Government Center.
Flooding in the city is still possible, but the biggest danger lies in the physical flood control network, Parrish said. Water rushing through the channels is powerful enough to sweep a person away.
“These flows are very dangerous. These channels are very dangerous,” he said. “You can certainly be injured or killed if you get caught up in one of those.”
The district has completed about 650 miles of flood channels and 100 flood basins, and its master plan for flood control is about 75 percent complete. An additional 20 to 30 years of work is still left.
The district has eliminated more than 50 square miles of flood areas in the city.
“We’ve been very successful. No question, 100 percent of the time, if our facilities are there, they work,” County Commissioner Larry Brown said.
Brown said that fewer people get swept away by floodwaters these days, but a poll of valley millennials showed that 60 percent still believe they can try to challenge a flash flood.
“While the citizens are more aware and warned of flooding potential than at any other time, vigilance is still required,” National Weather Service meteorologist-in-charge Todd Lericos said. “These events are going to happen again, and we have to be ready.”
The phrase “100-year storm” refers to storms that have a 1 percent chance of appearing on any given day. Another 100-year storm in 1997 damaged parts of Henderson and Boulder City.
Officials indicated monsoon season is nearing its start.
Lericos said parents should talk to their children about flash flood season before it gets here. They should tell teens and children to stay away from flood channels when it rains and keep an eye out for weather alerts in the summer.
“Have that conversation before the rain starts in the summer and have them make better decisions,” Lericos said.