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Dam Built Above Washoe Valley

It has been reported at the local Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) meetings lately that someone has expanded Joy Lake in the northwest valley with some sort of earthern dam structure without permits. We here at washoevalley.org don’t know all the facts on this development but it might be useful to review the effects of other dams built in the Washoe Valley watershed also built without  the advantage of modern day engineering and permits.

In February of 1881 the dirt dam above Franktown in Little Valley gave way just a year after being built. It was provided in a settlement to the ranchers of Washoe Valley after wood and mining interests had appropriated the creeks flowing into Washoe Valley for themselves. Following a warm and wet January, (that is not that unusual as we have had similar situations in 1997 and 2006) that caused enough snow melt to cause flooding, the dam burst sending a wall of water “20 feet high” destroying the town of Franktown and covering many acres of ranchland with tons of sand and debris (Pioneers of the Ponderosa, Ratay). The town was never rebuilt. The headline from the February 3rd, 1881 Reno Gazette Journal reads: A Wave 20 Feet High- Steel Rails Snapped In Two Like Pipestems-Houses Carried Half a Mile By the Flood-Ranches Covered By Debris-No Lives Lost (the breach was expected and residents were evacuated).

Price Lake, at the base of Slide Mt, is actually a man-made reservoir and has been breached a reportedly 3 times. The following is from the July 7, 1890, Reno Gazette Journal:

“At an early hour last evening the Price Reservoir, located about three miles west of the Ophir Station on the line of the V&TRR, in Washoe Valley, burst through the embanked dam of 200 feet in length and poured down into Washoe Valley, washing out and covering with silt nearly 200 feet of track on the railroad and smearing debris all over a square mile of surface. (The Price Reservoir) covered about 20 acres, with a depth of water of 15 feet. Fourteen years ago the dam broke, and a flood of water was precipitated on the inhabitants of the valley foothills. The material of which the dam was constructed was nothing else but granite sand and broken fragments. “

On May 30, 1983, some of you “old timers” may recall, Price Lake was again breached when a massive slide occurred on the slopes of Slide Mt. pushing debris into the lake and pushing the contents of the lake and said debris on down Ophir Creek canyon onto Washoe Valley. One person died, several were injured and homes and property destroyed. An article in the Washoe Weekly Times of June 10, 1865 reports another massive slide on Slide Mt.

In February 1911, the Reno Evening Gazette reported that rescue crews returned from Hobart Reservoir after failing to find the wife of the Reservoir keeper and her friend who were swept away when the earthen dam unexpectedly burst and destroyed their home following an unusually heavy period of runoff. The dam keeper was found, severely injured, and rushed to the hospital. The bodies of the two women were found in the spring.

Considering the disastrous results of dams built above Washoe Valley, should private individuals take it upon themselves to continue to build them?


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  3. Kevin Lavely says:

    You didn’t mention the dam up Jumbo Grade on the East side that overflowed and partially burst in the winter of 1986/87.

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