RENO — Nearly 15 years after torrential rain and a hefty snowpack turned the Truckee River into a churning monster, a plan to prevent a repeat of that devastation remains in flux with unanswered questions about its scope and funding.
The flood project’s status remained under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Monday.
“There’s a lot in play right now,” said Jay Aldean, the flood project director.
He anticipates the release of an environmental impact statement on the project this year. The document will drive decisions on the project’s scale and financing, and could lead to congressional authorization in 2013.
Flooding in 1997 caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Recovery took years . In 1999, Washoe County initiated a planning effort to address flooding on the Truckee River.
A strategy adopted in 2001 was designed to pursue alternatives to a 1988 Army Corps plan that relied heavily on dikes, levees and concrete flood walls.
A “living river” approach was adopted in 2006 as a preferred option by elected officials from Reno, Sparks and Washoe County. It would allow floodwaters to spread over the flood plain through riverbanks and restoration of parts of the river downstream of Sparks.
Other parts included replacing the Virginia Street Bridge and other downtown Reno bridges that act as bottlenecks for debris during floods.
The project’s timing has slipped, leading to second-guessing on whether the community overreached in pursuing a project that at one point was estimated to cost $1.6 billion.
“I think we got carried away a bit with this thing,” Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said. “We came up with this grandiose idea, and some of these things you just can’t do.”
In November, a workshop at corps offices made clear much of the “living river” concept would not qualify for federal funding because costs exceed benefits, Aldean said.
“If we are going to build our locally preferred plan, we will probably have to make up the difference,” Aldean said.
Plans called for about $525 million to be raised locally , but the exact amount of funds needed has yet to be identified.
Reno officials were exploring funding alternatives separate from the flood project to replace the Virginia Street Bridge, which is expected to cost about $18 million.
Much of the plan will be determined after the environmental impact statement is released, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said. Local governments might decide to proceed on their own with installation of some levees and the $40 million relocation of the North Truckee Drain, a significant contributor to Sparks flooding.
Martini said the delays were frustrating, particularly with more than $50 million in local funds already committed toward the project, mostly to acquire property. Major restoration projects have been completed on the lower Truckee, and a levee and floodwall were built at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony .