Singin’ in the rain

Not all that long ago, heavy rains were as welcome in Las Vegas as tourists who don’t tip.

Storms like the one that soaked the valley last week were serious trouble, snarling traffic, damaging streets, homes and businesses and causing headaches for anyone caught in them. But this month’s showers left very few intersections flooded. Christmas shoppers were largely undeterred despite nearly 2 inches of rain.

It’s been a gradual, good transition in our quality of life. Over the past quarter-century, the Clark County Regional Flood Control District has spent $1.6 billion building 83 detention basins and 550 miles of channels and underground storm drains. An additional 40 basins and 250 miles of channels and drains are in the works. The investment is paying off.

"They fared pretty well," Steve Parrish, engineering director for the flood control district, said of the system’s performance last week.

"The existing network of channels and storm drains also appeared to do a good job of intercepting and conveying flow safely throughout the valley."

Like every other big-city economy, Las Vegas depends on the ability of people and goods to move quickly and easily between destinations. Floods such as those of 1984, 1999 and 2003 did far more than busy rescue workers and damage property. They hindered commerce and productivity, imposing huge costs beyond repair bills.

Those summer thunderstorms are the real tests for the flood control district’s system. It’s one thing to absorb less than 2 inches of rain over three days. It’s entirely another to take on 3 inches in an hour. During so-called hundred-year storms, flood control infrastructure is meant to control and limit damage, not eliminate it.

That said, rainy days are much more manageable here than they were even 10 years ago — a positive shift for a drought-stricken community that needs all the water it can get.

In a county with plenty of documented government failures, the work of the Clark County Regional Flood Control District has been a welcome success.

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