Head of EPA, Army Corps praising Nevada flood control project | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Head of EPA, Army Corps praising Nevada flood control project

RENO, Nev. (AP) – An ambitious flood control plan for the Truckee River is a prime example of how federal partnerships should work in a new era of less federal government, two top Bush administration officials said Monday.

Christine Todd Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Gen. Robert Flowers, head of the Army Corps of Engineers, refused to commit any federal money to the project, expected to cost more than $200 million.

But they said it is the kind of project the Bush administration advocates and should fare well in competing for federal funds.

”What you’re undertaking is the future of the way governments have to work,” Whitman told local government officials and volunteers during an appearance with Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., at a riverfront park in west Reno.

”What this does is reinforce what the president and I and the senator and frankly everyone here believes in – which is partnerships are the way to solve these problems,” she said.

”We can leverage the dollars that are available by being smart about how we spend them and how we direct them.”

Reno and Sparks officials have been grappling with flood control since the 1950s on the river that flows about 100 miles from the alpine waters of Lake Tahoe, through Reno-Sparks to Pyramid Lake on the high-desert floor.

The area’s most recent big flood on New Year’s Day 1997 caused nearly $700 million damage.

Original plans developed by the Army Corps of Engineers called for a traditional flood control strategy based on levees and concrete retaining walls.

But ”the initial efforts were not what the community wanted,” Whitman said. ”The lesson being learned here is not all wisdom resides in Washington.”

The new plan being reviewed for an environmental impact statement proposes the river be allowed to flood naturally, with floodwater detained by a series of benches resembling small hills running parallel to the river.

Price estimates range from $200 million to $230 million. About half of that would be paid locally, some $85 million of it through a one-eighth cent increase in the local sales tax recently approved in Washoe County.

In addition to flood control, backers say the new plans would bolster recreation, improve water quality, protect wetlands and fish habitat and serve as a catalyst for downtown redevelopment.

”I’m here to tell you that water issues are going to be the major challenge of the 21st century. To do just flood control would be a disservice to the Truckee River,” Whitman said.

Tackling a variety of issues at once on a collaborative basis will give the project a leg up in competition with others nationwide, Whitman said.

”You look across this nation and there are a lot of demands for federal dollars for a lot of projects. … To the extent you can build consensus, you get a much better opportunity to get the dollars behind it.

Powers agreed that the collaborative effort is key.

”It is going to be awhile before a lot happens on the ground. But I think the chances are very great of things happening more quickly because the groups have come together.”

Ensign said too often in the past the Truckee River was ”just sort of ignored.

”This should be the shining star for Reno and Sparks area,” the senator said.

”This is such a beautiful natural attraction. Las Vegas doesn’t have this. … That is what northern Nevada has over southern Nevada – nature.”

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