SPARKS — Residents and business owners throughout the Reno-Sparks area filled tens of thousands of sandbags to help protect against what’s expected to be the region’s worst flooding in more than a decade on the heels of a storm that dumped 6 feet of snow this week atop the Sierra Nevada.
The city of Sparks declared a state of emergency and the Washoe County Commission followed with a county-wide declaration delivered Friday afternoon to Gov. Brian Sandoval to help expedite the use of all available resources before the Truckee River begins rising above its banks late Sunday or early Monday.
“We had a series of briefings this morning and confirmed current models indicating by Sunday we will be in a flood event,” Washoe County Emergency Manager Aaron Kenneston told reporters Friday.
The National Weather Service on Friday issued a flood watch for the greater Lake Tahoe and Reno-Carson City-Minden areas for the period from Saturday night through Monday afternoon, warning that heavy snowfall and rain is expected to cause flooding along the Truckee and Carson Rivers, their tributaries and other creeks and streams.
— NWS Reno (@NWSReno) January 6, 2017
The flood warning goes into effect Monday along the Carson River in nearby Lyon, Douglas and Churchill counties.
Authorities said the combined onslaught of heavy snowfall at high elevations and intense rain at lower levels could trigger the worse flooding of the Truckee since 2005-06, when 5 feet of water inundated the Sparks industrial area. Workers on Friday were trying to secure storage drums filled with hazardous materials to stop them from floating away as they have in past floods.
“They won’t only go into the river, they will be floating around the city of Sparks,” Acting Sparks Mayor Ron Smith said. “And when we find those barrels, we don’t know what is in them.”
The area is also home to marijuana growing facilities that are at risk of being flooded.
Scott Stites, who works at a metal shop in the Sparks industrial area near the Truckee River, was among dozens of people who braved temperatures in the teens to load sandbags into pickup trucks on Friday. A former resident of San Diego, he said he’d never seen major flooding before and wasn’t necessarily worried but wanted to take precautions.
“You hope for the best and plan for the worst,” he said.
The flooding isn’t expected to be as bad as in 1997, when most of the downtown Reno casino district was underwater, Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed and damage totaled $1 billion across six western Nevada counties.
— NWS Reno (@NWSReno) January 6, 2017
But authorities said it should rival the most serious event since then — the 2005-06 flood that swamped the Sparks industrial area just east of Reno and south of U.S. Interstate 80. It’s home to hundreds of commercial businesses that employ 25,000 workers.
Authorities set up more than dozen locations around Reno and Sparks where local residents and business owners could fill sand bags to help protect against flood waters. More than 50,000 bags had been filled by midday Friday, acting Sparks city manager Neil Koutz said.
The Truckee River’s flows in Sparks should peak at about 5 feet above flood stage at about 5 a.m. Monday, the service said.
Sparks officials announced late Friday they would begin to close roads around the industrial area and some Interstate 80 southbound off-ramps at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Authorities urged residents to stay away from the swift, churning waters throughout the weekend.
“I know that it can look incredibly awesome, but it is very dangerous,” Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said. “It is moving extremely fast and it is very, very cold.”
“If possible, this would be a great weekend to stay home,” Kenneston said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.