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No dam needed for dam emergency that drew national spotlight to Nevada’s Lyon County

Updated February 22, 2017 - 5:27 pm

For few hours Tuesday, Lyon County in northwest Nevada found itself at the center of a national media frenzy, thanks to wet weather, current events and an alert about a failing dam that doesn’t exist.

Luckily, everything turned out OK, with no reports of damage or injuries, Lyon County manager Jeff Page said Wednesday.

“We survived,” he deadpanned.

The excitement began at 12:40 p.m., when the National Weather Service in Reno, in consultation with county officials, sent out an urgent bulletin about a “dam break emergency” at a retention basin above Dayton, a Lyon County community with a population a shade under 9,000 about 12 miles east of Carson City. The alert also went out on Twitter with the hashtag #DamFailure and a warning: “This is not a drill!” NWS tweet

Page said the retention basin has no dam, but it was full and overflowing into some nearby drainages, potentially threatening nearby homes.

By the time the emergency was cancelled about four hours later, the county manager had fielded calls from major news outlets and reporters from as far away as Florida. Page eventually lost track of everyone who contacted him, but he said he knows he heard from NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and media outlets in Chicago and Orlando.

Page said the high level of interest in little Lyon County — with its population of about 55,000 — can probably be traced to all the recent coverage of the failed spillway at Oroville Dam in California, which forced the evacuation of about 188,000 downstream residents on Feb. 12.

Lyon County was actually hit with a far worse flash flood in January, resulting in some evacuations and about $8 million in damage to roads and other infrastructure, but that incident got comparatively little coverage. One possible reason, Page said: The flooding last month hit at about 3 a.m. and the weather service did not send out a dam alert.

But Page has no complaints about what happened Tuesday. “The weather service did their jobs,” he said.

Weather service officials in Reno could not be reached for comment. Dan Berc, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service in Las Vegas, said the fact that warning got as much attention as it did is proof that the system worked as designed.

“Hashtag #DamFailure on Twitter is going to get some attention,” Berc said. “If they’re getting the word out all the way to Orlando, I would hope they’re getting it to the local residents.”

As for all the calls he got, Page said he doesn’t mind talking to reporters. He just has one request: “I would like to see some national news attention about the good things that happen in Lyon County, not just the bad stuff,” he said.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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