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Engineer testifies canal flows ‘safe’

RENO — The chief government engineer overseeing an irrigation canal that broke and flooded 590 homes in Northern Nevada in January sought to reassure a federal judge on Wednesday that current reduced flows in the canal are safe.

But David Gore, regional engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific region based in Sacramento, Calif., also acknowledged the construction standards used when the earthen canal was built in 1903 were significantly less stringent than those required today.

And the judge who is considering a request by more than 100 flood victims to further restrict the flows continued to raise concerns that deficiencies that caused the canal’s failure still might exist, including the presence of rodent burrows suspected of weakening the embankment.

Gore told U.S. District Judge Lloyd George that the Truckee Carson Irrigation District, which operates the canal for the bureau, has met all the agency’s safety measures and required repairs necessary to allow the current canal flows of 350 cubic feet per second.

Water was flowing at the canal’s capacity of 750 cfs when the embankment burst at 4 a.m. on Jan. 5. It marked at least the ninth time the canal has failed since it was built, although past events caused little damage because housing developments have been built along the canal only in the past decade in once-rural Fernley.

Hundreds of flood victims have filed a lawsuit against the bureau, the district and others, and are seeking a restraining order to restrict flows to 250 cfs, a level irrigation district officials say would deprive about 2,000 farmers and ranchers of much of the water they need for their crops and livestock.

Testifying in the third day of a hearing that’s been continued over several weeks, Gore said that extensive review of the entire 31-mile canal makes him confident the risk of another failure at 350 cfs is far below the industry standard of one in 100.

Gore said his confidence in the integrity of the canal is buoyed by the fact the district was required to adopt a rodent control program and fill all known rodent holes before flows were raised above 150 cfs in May.

But Judge George pointed to photographs lawyers for the flood victims presented showing some burrows still exist.

The judge asked, “Are you telling me you filled all the rodent holes?”

Gore replied: “That’s not to say the rodents aren’t still out there. So there’s likely some holes out there.”

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