Fernley flood victims win $18.1M settlement from 2008 canal break

FERNLEY — Eight years, dozens of lawyers and hundreds of thousands of documents later, more than 200 northern Nevada flood victims are finally going to be paid for damages suffered when a century-old irrigation canal burst and sent a wall of water into their homes in 2008.

No one was killed or seriously injured but 590 homes in Fernley were flooded when water burst through a 50-foot breach in the canal’s earthen embankment Jan. 5, 2008.

A 2-foot-tall wave swamped the neighborhood and water collected 8 feet deep in some parts of the rural town 30 miles east of Reno. More than a dozen residents were rescued from rooftops by helicopter, while others were taken to safety by boats.

Judy Kroshus, lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit the local irrigation district recently agreed to settle for $18.1 million, and her 2-year-old grandchild were stranded by water “up to our windshield” before her son waded several blocks to rescue them.

“We were lucky to get out,” she said.

The aging, 31-mile canal is a key component of the nation’s first federal reclamation project, started in 1903. It’s owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation but managed by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District (TCID). The bureau concluded within two months of the breach that burrowing rodents had weakened the canal, causing it to fail.

In July 2012, a federal jury returned a verdict during the liability phase of the trial finding the district’s history of negligence in maintaining the canal was primarily to blame. Soon after, the district agreed to a $10 million settlement, but then backed out.

The damages phase of the trial was scheduled to resume two months ago, but the district agreed to the new settlement terms after its members voted in February to raise money to finance the damage award by selling off some water rights to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. Judge Lloyd George approved the deal March 31.

“The settlement finally brings closure to those who were harmed through no fault of their own,” said Patrick Leverty, lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

Kroshus, who’s the director of a tribal health service resource center in Fernley, said she had to short-sell her flood-damaged home and bought a new one just a year ago. “It’s not in the flood area,” she said.

A similar rupture in the same vicinity flooded 60 homes in December 1996.

The $18.1 million settlement includes about $7.8 million in attorney fees and expenses.

Laverty said no one in the class objected to that part of the deal.

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