"Big Dig" completes Fallon's extraordinary flood preparations

Published: May. 10, 2017 at 6:36 PM PDT
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They call it the "Big Dig", a 17-mile channel, built in a matter of weeks, and with its opening Wednesday, it's now carrying Sierra runoff in the Carson River to its historic destination--the Stillwater marshes and the Carson Sink, bypassing homes and farms and the city of Fallon itself.

It is the last of a series of projects constructed to protect the community from flood waters, but three months ago it was not even conceived.

As this past winter brought record snowfall to the Sierra, the concern out here quickly turned from expectations of another drought year to the possibility of flooding.

Forecasts indicated the river, Lahontan Reservoir and the extensive irrigation system would receive two and a half times its capacity.

The response began with clearing the river channel and then a series of projects conceived as they went along.

A huge weir was built on a major canal to send the excess water out into the desert. But it was realized the water could eventually spread miles, threatening US 95 south of Fallon.

Culverts were built to send it underneath the roadway to the marshes of Carson Lake to the east, but that wouldn't be enough. When the lake filled up it would threaten homes and farms, even US 50 east of town. A dike was built to protect property and the Big Dig was conceived.

"We tossed around four or five different alternatives," says Incident Commander Bill Lawry, "and we decided this was the most likely to work."

The most impressive part of all this is the speed with which it all happened.

"Everything that happened on this project was expedited and needed to be," says Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford.

Congressman Mark Amodei ws impressed. "From the very start to today about 90 days, I mean call success, success. Way to go Churchill County, the state and the Bureau of Reclamation."

So Wednesday as the last of these projects was completed, it was time to add an event to thank all those involved.

Total cost to the community for all of this--somewhere around a million dollars. The alternative could have been flood waters in the city itself.

"And the good news is it's here forever," says Lawry, who says even after all this work, the runoff will have to be monitored well into the summer.

"However it comes off we'll handle it and hopefully all our preplanning and our work pays off and we can slide through this thing with minimal problems."

They've now done all they can to prepare out here. Now it's up to the weather.