Washoe County prepares for atmospheric river and localized flooding

by | Mar 8, 2023

The National Weather Service has forecast an atmospheric river in the Reno-Tahoe region beginning Thursday. This is expected to bring heavy rainfall on top of a significant snowpack and full creeks and ditches. Washoe County has been preparing for winter weather, monitoring conditions and proactively initiating preplanned responses in known trouble areas.  

Washoe County Community Services Department (CSD) follows mandated priorities for flood response: Top priority is life safety, then to maintain clear access for emergency vehicles and to protect public infrastructure. Protections are in place to minimize the impact on the public.  

CSD stages equipment such as backhoes, loaders, and trailers in northern, central, and southern areas so they can be deployed immediately in the case of an emergency.  

Ditches have been cleared, but garbage blowing into drainages areas can clog drains and create unnecessary flooding. Residents are asked to be diligent to remove garbage and debris from their properties and to remove garbage from empty roadside ditches if they see it. However, CSD warns everyone that walking into standing water or a flooded ditch is dangerous. Please call Washoe County to report clogged drains, and let CSD handle the flooded areas. 

Lemmon Valley 

Over the last two months Washoe County has implemented protection measures in and around Swan Lake in response to increasing water levels. Current lake water levels are at 4919.4 feet – or more than 4 feet below the highest water levels recorded in 2019. This can be viewed in real time on the Swan Lake camera.  

The protective measures that have been installed recently are located in areas away from roadways and residences to minimize impact to the community. This approach removes the necessary barrier protections from the edge of major roadways, eliminates pipe crossings along Lemmon Drive, and keeps the intersection of Lemmon Drive and Idaho Street open. More specifically some of these protections are as follows.  

  • Washoe County has prepared for rising Swan Lake water levels by constructing protective berms in certain areas around the lake and installing high flow pumps to manage water that flows down from the surrounding areas. 
  • Berms have been constructed in the Pompe Way and Jean Way areas in the north area of Swan Lake.  
  • Berms and protections have been installed in the southern areas of the lake, near Palace Drive, along with the installation of pumps to manage flows coming from Lemmon Drive.  
  • Crews have also made improvements to the areas along the eastern side Swan Lake to protect roadways and residences. 
  • Crews have also inspected the berms and protections in place near Compton Blvd. And will install pumps at the appropriate time if water levels rise in that area. 
  • The protective berms and access road around the Lemmon Valley Wastewater Treatment plant are still in place and fully functioning if water levels dramatically rise. 

Residents should be aware that there will continue to be on-going field activities and that there will be people and equipment in the area as work continues in anticipation of further increasing Swan Lake water levels.    

Steamboat Ditch and Whites Creek 

Many ditches in the southern end of the county near Toll Road, Geiger Grade, Whites Creek and Thomas Creek are buried under several feet of snow. Most flooding potential is from irrigation ditches, so crews have been visiting the ditches and monitoring them prior to this storm to ensure that they are as clear of debris as possible.  

Some known problem areas around Toll Road and Geiger Grade are already sandbagged.  

Personal Preparedness 

The Washoe County Regional Emergency Operations Center (REOC) is monitoring the storm and working with all partners to ensure complete situational awareness of the storm. If necessary, the REOC will be activated to respond and deploy resources.  

Residents who experienced any level of flooding over New Year’s Day this year should take precautions and sandbag their property now. There are more than a dozen sandbag locations maintained by Washoe County, and numerous additional locations by the City of Reno. Sand is for noncommercial use only. 

Truckee Meadows Fire and Rescue is activating a crew to assist with sandbagging.  

As a standard practice, residents should stock a three-day supply of food, water, batteries, and personal necessities.  

“Washoe County has done everything it can to minimize the impact of flooding on residents, but we know that heavy rain on top of heavy snow will cause water levels to rise and low elevations to flood,” Washoe County Emergency Manager Kelly Echeverria said. “We must each take responsibility to prepare and protect our homes and our families.” 

Washoe County will respond to emergencies and flooded areas in unincorporated Washoe County. To report a problem, please call Washoe311 at 3-1-1 or 775-328-2003. Service requests can also be made online here.  

To report a problem within the City of Reno, please call Reno Direct at 775-344-INFO (4636).  

To report a problem within the City of Sparks, please call 775-353-2231 or download the city’s new My Sparks app.  


Heavy snow can damage trees, which in turn can damage power lines. If you suspect damage to a power line, do not go anywhere near it. Report downed power lines to 9-1-1 and NV Energy’s emergency line: 775-834-4100.  

NV Energy has information on how to prepare for possible power outages here. Residents can also report street light issues here 

Traffic Signals

To report traffic signal issues, call 775-335-7623. 


Check the Nevada Department of Transportation roads webcams or call 1-877-NV-ROADS for real-time road conditions and be prepared for possible delays.