2017 Was One of Nevada's Busiest for Emergencies
Floods and a busy fire season were both things Nevada faced in 2017.
Hurricanes in the southeast U.S. and wildfires in the west made 2017 the most expensive year for natural disasters in history, costing $306 billion. Meanwhile, Nevada had a banner year of its own. The year started out with two flood events during a winter that dropped more than twice the average precipitation. The Truckee, Carson, Walker and Humboldt Rivers all spilled over their banks in some areas, along with area creeks.
"By all measures, this has been an extraordinary year," Caleb Cage, Chief of the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, said.
The January and February floods led to Governor Brian Sandoval declaring states of emergency. President Trump approved them, which brought federal funding to Nevada. The cost of the floods totaled about $40 million. Seventy-five percent of it was paid for with federal funding, while local, tribal and state agencies paid the rest.
"Nevada has experienced about one emergency or disaster every three years since 1953," Cage said. "Never in consecutive years, never two in the same year, and this year we had two in back-to-back months in January and February."
Flash floods affected areas like Dayton, Silver Springs and Yerington, and they washed out roads like SR 446 near Pyramid Lake and Six-Mile Canyon.
"I believe the January floods, alone, saw damage to 89 public roads in northern Nevada and the February floods was even higher than that. I think it was 110," Cage said. "So huge damage to public infrastructure."
Communities worked together to overcome damage and prevent even more. Multiple agencies worked together to keep Fallon from flooding, building a spillway that allowed the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District to release higher volumes of water without the Carson River flooding. Water was diverted into the desert and around the town, which required the installation of culverts under U.S. 95 and U.S. 50, and the construction of a canal known as Fallon's "Big Dig."
"They put a lot of their own money, they put a lot of their own sweat and toil into making sure that 17-mile canal, which my understanding is it still has water running through it, putting that into place and making sure Lahontan Reservoir didn't reach capacity or overflow," Cage said.
The heavy snowpack and rainfall led to heavy fuel for fire season. Nationwide, wildfires cost $18 million. Most of that was in California and Montana. In Nevada, 1.2 million acres burned. While that is the second-most in the last 16 years, there were very few structures lost.
"The incredible efforts to protect structures, I think were really effective, where it's not the damage we're seeing in California," Cage said.
Cage says preparedness is the number one focus for emergencies, and it starts at the local level. He says that is where Nevadans rose to the occasion, last year.
"They really did a great job to make sure that the situation was stabilized, that property and life was protected," Cage said.
Cage says there are learning experiences that happen during emergencies, and they could be beneficial in future.
"We take a lot of lessons that we learned from that year and we're already applying them towards what we can do for 2018 and we're certainly taking those efforts seriously," Cage said.