Brunt of storm on its way; flooding likely


By Kathryn Reed

With a wind advisory in effect through 4am Sunday, public works crews in the Lake Tahoe Basin will be patrolling streets through the weekend to make sure storm drains are not clogged with pine needles or other debris, which can cause streets to flood.

But there is nothing crews can do to stop the rivers in the region from rising.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting the Truckee River will be close to 8 feet between 3am and 3pm on Sunday. Flood stage for the portion of the river along Highway 89 near the Placer-Nevada county line is 4.5 feet.

Officials are advising people to avoid traveling on Highway 89 between Truckee and Tahoe City.

The following are storm totals from the National Weather Service in Reno from 4pm Nov. 27 through 6pm Nov. 30:
Reno 1.47 inches (rain)
Incline Village 1.11 inches (rain)
Mammoth Lakes 26 inches (snow)
Kirkwood Mountain 22 inches (snow)
Sierra-at-Tahoe 19 inches (snow)
Sugar Bowl 12.0 inches (snow)
Alpine Meadows 9 inches (snow)
Upper Kingsbury Grade 8 inches (snow)

Farther downstream, the level of concern is even more heightened.

“(Friday) morning, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Truckee River area and Susanville,” said Aaron Kenneston, Washoe County emergency manager, said at a press briefing. “We are joining forces with our regional partners to declare a state of emergency in Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County in order to access state resources that can help us maintain public safety as we deal with the impact of this 25-year flood. Those resources include the Nevada National Guard, the Division of Forestry, and other agencies that specialize in emergency disaster management and relief.”

Storms keep rolling

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency inspectors were out Friday checking on projects and storm drains.

“While we don’t know right now if this was a 20-year storm, BMPs are engineered to handle 1 inch of rain in one hour, which equates to a 20-year storm event,” Jeff Cowen with TRPA told Lake Tahoe News. “The key is that the first hour provides the ‘first flush’ of pollutants. Once that first flush is captured, the stormwater following is much cleaner and less impactful.”

The National Weather Service in Reno has issued a flood watch from this afternoon through Sunday morning for the Lake Tahoe Basin, eastern Alpine County and the Reno-Carson City-Minden area along and west of Highway 395. Heavy rain with high snow levels is expected to occur tonight through Sunday. This will increase the potential for minor flooding near creeks and streams.

Forecasters are calling for 3 to 5 inches of rain during this time period, with isolated amounts up to 7 inches along Highway 89.

With moisture comes the wind – with gusts expected to hit 120 mph on mountain passes.

Clearing the debris

Bobby Maxwell with South Lake Tahoe public works on Nov. 30 clears a storm drain on Ski Run and David. Photos/Kathryn Reed

In South Lake Tahoe the public works crews were driving all over town dealing with the more than two dozen usual problem areas along with the calls coming in from concerned residents.

By 3pm Friday a couple hundred bags of sand have been filled at the fire station near the Y. Bobby Maxwell with the city’s public works department delivered more bags so people can protect their property.

A homeowner on Janet Drive did what he could to clear the water, but Mother Nature was winning. The vactor truck is sent over to suck up the water and debris. Still, sand bags line his driveway while the water ponds on the far side of his street.

This is one of those low-lying parcels, where the street goes up in both directions and the property at the bottom is where the water collects.

The large vactor truck is running all day – and will be this weekend. When it’s full the gunk is dumped in the Caltrans yard at the end of Sierra Boulevard.

The vactor mobile is also one of the tools the city has to help prevent clogs. It along with street sweepers is sent out before storms to rid roads of as much debris as possible.

Maxwell says curbs are a good thing; adding that Highway 50 is noticeably better in this storm because Caltrans installed curbs and gutters the last two years.

But Caltrans’ work has caused problems for those on Fremont Avenue. The city had a pump there on Friday to help with drainage flows. Later in the afternoon the center was pumping water from below the parking lot on to Fremont Avenue with a fire-type hose.

Caltrans messed with the city’s infrastructure in summer 2011 so the drainage is worse. It nearly caused the businesses in the Fremont Mall to flood last year.

Markers let the crews know what kind of drain is installed. DI = drain inlet, P = pipe, and DW = dry well. The latter don’t work all that well because they can only hold so much water. A flooded street is usually the result of a dry well being overloaded, a low-lying area where all the water collects, or a flat area where there is no movement of water – it just puddles.

The drain inlets are where crews can take a metal rake to remove the debris to get the water flowing again.

At Tamarack and Ski Run the water is nearly across both lanes. Water is over the top of Maxwell’s boots. But after a few swipes of the grate with the rake the water is spiraling down the drain. The road is wet, but there is no more standing water.

Along Lakeview Avenue where the city did improvements the last two years it would be hard to know there had been a substantial storm. In winters past about 20 calls came in each season to let crews know water was accumulating.

While snow is more common in Tahoe this time of year than rain, the history books point to plenty of flooding in the area. The most recent significant event was New Year’s Eve 2005.

“It seems like we are working harder in the winter because the storms are more powerful,” Maxwell told Lake Tahoe News.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)


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Comments (12)
  1. Nancy Kerry says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    The community of South Lake Tahoe is well served by our hard working public servants like Bobby and all the public works crews. They are out there in the rain, snow and gunky stuff that we avoid to help make our streets safer and cleared. Thank you team!

  2. Steve says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    I have always wondered where all the storm drain gunk is dumped. Up til now I thought it was dumped into the lake. One can now wonder, what happens to it outside the city limits.

  3. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    Alot of the storm drain gunk does go directly into the lake via storm drains that go into the lake. Some of it is now being diverted into newly built retention ponds.
    Maybe someone from STPUD, Lahontan or The Tahoe Conservancy or one of the other myriad of agencies we have in town can give us some numbers as to what goes into the lake and how much is being kept out.
    Lottsa rain expected in this storm so the lake will take a beating from the overflowing creeks and rivers as well as runoff from the roads.
    Old Long Skiis

  4. Bill Swim says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    Pictures and a movie too? Way to go Bob!

  5. Hang Ups From Way Back says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    They wouldn’t have to this if they did proper street sweeping like we see on our property tax bill.

    The streets been sweep twice in our area this year,use be on a regularly .

    I sent my tax bill last Tuesdays,its right on the bill,some ask why, they never come sweep our street.

  6. Bill Swim says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    Hang Ups From Way Back….City Lay-offs.

  7. HangsUpsFromWayBack says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    no bill it should be done, lay offs no excuse to charge residents for something they don provide, plus the trpa suppose to have something to say, but where are they when you need them? It’s not right period.

  8. Bill Swim says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    HUFWB. Should be done, agree. Lay-off’s no excuse, don’t agree, if you lay off a third of the manpower who’s left to do the work?. TRPA, I so agree! Stay dry the rest of the weekend.

  9. John says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    Hang ups, I want to get this straignt: In high winds pine needles are blown out of trees and clog drains. You want to hire enough city workers to go and collect all of those falling pine needles as they are falling to prevent drains from backing up. That is your best thinking?

  10. Dogula says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    How come y’all expect somebody else to take care of it for you? When we see our culverts getting blocked up we go outside and unblock them ourselves.
    Or maybe y’all need to instruct your gardners to stop using their leaf blowers to blow all the leaves and needles out onto the street and into other peoples’ yards and rake ’em up and bag em!
    Everybody expects somebody else to pick up after them. Take a little responsibility, people.

  11. Hang Ups From Way Back says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    Not my best thinking john, there’s many factors into these drains ,pine needles, mostly trash blowing clogging drains,(where’s the dumpster control,lid on can etc.) it all goes back to what dog says.
    I constantly pick up trash in my neighborhood, don’t bug clean Tahoe,(mattress, counches) report, Grab a bag ,throw it my own can.In the winter use the truck plow hit few the drains in our area that neighbors tell aren’t draining ,takes like nothing to help.

    I do remember when they had the fire on Al-TAHOE……..THINK IT WAS jANET AVE…BUT that evening when that fire was going on I did see in some parts that neighborhood with the wind,hot ash falling ,there was actual small pine needle fires in the streets burning.Made me think how strange,how many needles were out there making the street look on fire.
    Theres no qiuck fix unless all people do just alittle,but years gone by,only bigger problems with so many new things they just kinda forget the orginal problems we started with to begin with, that’s the problem with many thnigs in town.


  12. John says - Posted: December 1, 2012

    Hang ups, the point is you want the city to sweep all pine needles on all streets tonight to prevent the drains from clogging. Uhh, dont think its possible.