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Digging a Tunnel from Washoe Valley To Tahoe

A dam at the north end of the valley, at the head of Pagni Canyon, rising 50 feet and 248 feet long would create a “Lake Washoe” filling Washoe Valley with water from a massive pipe tunneled through the Carson Range into Lake Tahoe. The outlet would be at Franktown Creek and the fall of water would power a large Hydropower plant. Excess water would be transported to the Carson River Canyon east of Carson City via a canal for storage and irrigation behind a new dam there.

All this was seriously considered in 1953 by state and federal engineers to solve Western Nevada’s water and power crisis. Writer Basil Woon of the Nevada State Journal chronicled the promise and controversy of the project in a series of articles for the paper.

The tunnel was part of a massive regional project to also tame the tempermental Truckee by channelizing the river between it’s outlet at Tahoe City and Donner Lake. Prosser Dam would also be raised and other improvements would be made east of Sparks along with a power plant there.

The fear in 1953, with a Reno population at 32,000, was that western Nevada’s growth would soon be stalled by a lack of critical resources. It was predicted that by the year 2000 the Reno population would be 70,000 and that current water resources would be woefully inadequate requiring severe rationing. A lack of electrical power would prohibit industrial and commercial development. As it turned out, the population was 226,000 in 2010 and growing. The Reno/Sparks Metro area was 425,000 in 2010. They grossly overestimated the need and underestimated the growth! Apparently the water engineers in the interim have done a great job providing us with adequate water supplies.

This was a time of great infrastructure development in the American West. The Bureau of Reclamation became a huge bureaucracy bestowing upon western towns and rural residents the promise of prosperity with the development of water projects for irrigation and electric power.  Hundreds of dams, canals and power plants were built throughout the west. Nearly every area was examined for it’s development potential.

Back in Washoe Valley, Woon chronicled the local reaction to the plan and the potential changes to the lush valley of pastoral ranches. Locals were terrified that their lifestyles and livelihoods would be destroyed and our historical legacy lost. Residents quickly organized and met with the engineers.

As usual in our society, there were nearly as many for the proposal as those against. The threat to Bower’s Mansion came up, now a popular park. The engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation office in Carson City, H. A. Hunt, assured the residents the resource would be spared, presumably by a dike. The Winters Mansion on the north end, some saying it was an even more important landmark, pre-dating Bowers, was another matter. The engineer thought the waters would be “mighty close”. Washoe City would be abandoned and inundated. This fate engulfed several towns and historic sites larger in the west.

Local residents, artists, ranchers, dude ranch owners, gentleman ranchers and families with many generations of history stood to lose everything. Dr. T. S. Clarke, prominent Reno eye doctor and vigorous opponent, stated, “It would ruin our place and nullify all the work and expense we have gone to; the fields and farm would go and we would be left with nothing but a house on a lake.” Even in 1953 a working farm was considered by practical minds more attractive than a lake house, apparently. Proponents envisioned public beaches and a resort hotel in addition to plentiful power. In the end, the tunnel project was shelved. Maybe it was the public resistance, the historical significance or there were plenty of other potential projects to pursue.

Nearly all the other proposals also fell by the wayside except the channeling of the Truckee through Reno and Sparks and the building of Stampede Reservoir. This, added with Prosser and Boca were to supply a power plant in Verdi which was never built.

Now, with our massive population and the recruitment of major industry along with having squeezed nearly every drop out of every other water resource, will the Tahoe Tunnel and Lake Washoe proposal return to wet the imagination of planners?

Incline Lake Drained – Editorial

We drove by Incline Lake the other day and noticed it was drained. It has since been mentioned in the media. Recently, theincline-lake feds spent $46 million for a property with the major feature, and presumably the majority of the value, of an alpine lake. Now, after paying a premium for a lake, the feds say their is a danger of the 1946 dam failing. Huh? Couldn’t this be determined before we bought the lake?

Maybe we could have gotten a deal by saving the owner of the liability.

Anyway, we need to figure out a way to save our investment. Right here above Washoe Valley we have an answer, I think. Recently a homeowner in the northwest side of the valley allegedly modified Joy Lake, another old reservoir, without approved engineering or permits according to news reports. After the work was completed, the state engineer awarded him with a letter saying essentially that all standards had been met and the lake would “be safe for years to come”.

Let’s send this dam genius up to Incline Lake, let him work his magic on his homeowner’s budget and get a similar stamp of approval from the Nevada State Engineer.

One party sold us a lake that doesn’t exist and another took it upon himself to make a lake bigger and safe. We need to convince these dam people who know how to work the system to work for us too!

Gourley Dam Update

The Gourley Dam at Joy Lake was discussed at the last Galena/Steamboat CAB and this is the transcript from that meeting. Residents are concerned about why some are required to get building permits and apparently others are not. Also, the potential of a dambreak is a concern of downstream residents.

Scroll down or search for “dam” for more dam information!

Gourley Dam discussion at the CAB:

Special Use Permit SB08-015 (Ted H. and Julie R. Gourley Trust) – Stacie Huggins, Wood Rodgers, Inc
presented the request to legalize the previous grading, excavation, and disturbance of approximately 154,355
square feet (±3.54 acres) on three (3) adjoining parcels as authorized in Article 810 of the Washoe County
Development Code. The subject properties are located south and west of St. James Village; approximately ½
mile from the intersection of Pine Wild Road and Joy Lake Road. The subject parcels total approximately ±46.22-
acres and are designated General Rural (GR) in the Forest Area Plan, and are situated in the E ½ and SE ¼ of
Section 15, T17N, R19E, MDM, Washoe County, Nevada. The properties are located in the Galena-Steamboat
Citizen Advisory Board boundary and Washoe County Commission District No. 2. (APNs 046-190-12, 049-190-
13 and 046-190-14) Staff Representative: Trevor Lloyd, Senior Planner, 775.328.3620 Applicant/Property
Owner:Ted Gourley, Gourley Family Trust was available to address questions and concerns. Professional
Consultant, Melissa Lindell Wood Rodgers, Inc. was not in attendance. Tentatively scheduled for the Board of
Adjustment on December 4, 2008. MOTION: Ron Penrose moved to recommend denial of SB08-015 Gourley
Trust and direct staff to review this project for structural integrity and dam safety, jurisdictional permitting
authority, legitimacy of water rights, legal review by County legal staff regarding sanctions, pollution control
permits, flood controls and review of public comments. John McLelland seconded the motion. Mr. Penrose
added the request that staff provide a report and action plan to the CAB in on steps for public safety. John
McLelland seconded the addition. The motion carried with Dennis Wilson voting in opposition.
Comments and Concerns
• In response to concerns raised, Ms. Huggins assured the CAB and community that the excavation was done
to County Code although it was done without a permit.
• In response to questions raised, Sarah Tone stated that the staff report will not be written until the CAB has
reviewed the application and formed an opinion.
• Questions were raised whether the applicant was provided with a field inspection report. Mr. Gourley stated
that he hired NorTech.
• Ron Penrose asked that the report be forwarded to Washoe County staff. Ms. Huggins stated that Wood
Rodgers has the compaction report.
• In response to questions raised, Mr. Gourley stated that he did not contact Washoe County Air Quality
regarding dust controls.
• Robert Parker stated concern regarding the integrity of the dam. Mr. Parker stated that the State of Nevada
would inspect the dam. Mr. Parker stated that the water rights are for 14 acre feet per year. Mr. Parker also
stated concern that the area of the lake that has no circulation could present a health hazard. Mr. Parker
stated concern that the project was done without any permits or notification to the public. Mr. Parker
cautioned that since the applicant did not get the required permits for the project whether he would comply
with any restrictions that would be placed on the property.
• Roy King stated concern that the lake has doubled in size and the applicant cut down trees without a permit.
Mr. King stated that per aerial views of the stated diseased trees that were cut down, they did not look
• Ginger Pierce raised questions regarding the integrity of the dam should there be a seismic event.
• John McLelland stated opposition to the applicant doing the project without permits and inspections.
• Robert Parker stated that Washoe City is below the dam would be in danger of floods.
• Robert Parker provided letters from Dr. Joel G. and Ms. Sandra D. Verner, St. James Village, Terry Dolan
and John Marian for the record.
• Kip Seckington, St. James Village HOA read his statement into the record. Mr. S asked the CAB to
recommend denial of the SUP until such time that… and post a sufficient bond.
• Donna Peterson, home owner, board member and Neighborhood Watch/Emergency Coordinator in St.
James’s Village read her statement into the record. asked the CAB to recommend denial of the SUP until
such time that… and post a sufficient bond.
• Rick Riley, President HOA Jeffrey Pines stated that he contacted Washoe County on several occasions and
was told that the project would be looked into but that was never confirmed. Mr. Riley stated concern that a
dam collapse would be hazardous to adjacent residential properties. Mr. Riley noted that there has not been
any erosion controls and flood waters would channel into Joy Creek destroying bridges, roadways and private
property. Mr. Riley asked that the CAB recommend that the Special Use Permit be denied and that Washoe
County require that the lake be drained immediately prior to winter weather conditions.
• Paul Grace, President of Galena Pines Association asked how many acre feet the dam would hold before
water spills over the top. Mr. Grace reminded the audience of a retention basin in the Callahan Ranch area
that flooded several residential properties during a storm event.
• Jeff Quinn, St. James’s Village asked why Mr. Gourley why he proceeded with the project without permits and
what is in place at Washoe County to reprimand or fine violations.
• Mr. Gourley stated that there is a spillway on the dam and there is a maximum of 13 acre feet capacity. Mr.
Gourley stated that if the dam broke, it would only lose approximately 1 or 2 acre feet.
• Lynn Mundt stated that the concerns of residents be forwarded to Washoe County and there should be no
approvals given until property owners are assured that the project meets all specifications. Ms. Mundt stated
that a debris flow has been more damaging than just water flows.
• Concerns were raised regarding site work that has been done on the subject parcel along Brown’s Creek.
Mr. Goruley stated that the work done at the north end of the property has been permitted.
• Concerns were raised regarding the apparent practice of developers to violate the law be not obtaining
permits and ask for ‘forgiveness’ after the fact. Sarah Tone reviewed the process and also confirmed that
violators can be fined and possible serve jail time.
• In response to questions raised, Mr. Gourley stated that the primary reason for the lake is to be available to
fight wildfire.
• Concerns were raised regarding the amount of malfeasance of engineering firms who do not advise clients
that they need permits and also the lack of
Greg Bishoff, builder in St. James’s Village discussed the permit requirements and also the process for work
that has been done without a permit.
• Ms. Huggins was asked for the date that Wood Rodgers was hired to work on this project.
• Dennis Wilson recommended that the Attorney General be asked to deal with the legalities of the project and
would the Special Use Permit have been issues before this project was started. Mr. Wilson also stated that
there should be a form of penalization for completing this project without permits.
• Robert Penrose asked that the excavated dirt on-site be looked at by the Health Department for compliance
with dust controls.

Update: Gourley Dam at Joy Lake

The unpermitted dam built to deepen Joy Lake in the Northwest Valley above Washoe City that we reported on below was scheduled as an item in the December 4, 2008 Board of Adjustment Meeting. The board was going to consider “legalizing” the work that has been done without permits.

Gourley item continued to February, 2009

At the agenda site, I just looked at the agenda and there is a note next to the Gourley item saying that it is continued until the February 5th, 2009 meeting. Maybe they want to see if the dam holds through the January rain, thaw and melt event we get every few years and if it holds, they’ll approve it. It will be interesting to see how easy it is to get approval “after the fact”. After all, it’s easier to ask forgiveness, than permission with added bonus of you get to do it your way.

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?