Flooding in the Truckee Meadows

Find out more about the history and opportunities that the Truckee Meadows floodplain offers to the residents of Reno

Flood Facts
Flood Facts

For decades many of Reno’s city landmarks have been erected in the floodplain. Now a new era of development, with even more innovative design and flood mitigation, aims to strike the careful balance between locals’ housing and flood protection that Reno needs to move into the future.

Regional Hydrology
Regional Hydrology

Reno’s greatest gift can also be one of its toughest challenges. Its world-class geography and water-rich landscape make for fertile farm fields and world-class recreation but requires extra flood protection measures across wide areas of the city.

Developing in a Floodplain
Developing in a Floodplain

Development has come a long way since streams were shunted into pipes and ditches to make way for new homes. Today, innovative design can restore and enhance natural stream channels and wetlands, preserving them as both floodplains and as centerpieces of new communities — places where residents gather and recreate in protected natural environments.

Flood Facts

For decades many of Reno’s city landmarks have been erected in the floodplain. Now a new era of development, with even more innovative design and flood mitigation, aims to strike the careful balance between locals’ housing and flood protection that Reno needs to move into the future.

Regional Hydrology

Reno’s greatest gift can also be one of its toughest challenges. Its world-class geography and water-rich landscape make for fertile farm fields and world-class recreation but requires extra flood protection measures across wide areas of the city.

Developing in a Floodplain

Development has come a long way since streams were shunted into pipes and ditches to make way for new homes. Today, innovative design can restore, and enhance natural stream channels and wetlands, preserving them as both floodplains and as centerpieces of new communities — places where residents gather and recreate in protected natural environments.

Hydrological History of the
Truckee Meadows

Reno’s extraordinary geography and topography come with a caveat — flooding has been a concern for much of the Truckee Meadows since the city’s earliest days. Whether it is the Sierra Nevada snowmelt swelling the Truckee River or the many tributaries flowing off of Mount Rose, developers have had to work around the challenges of Reno’s water-rich landscape for generations. But we’ve come a long way since Reno’s youth.

1000 acres
in the floodplain
1000 parcels
in the floodplain

While many of the city’s landmarks are built on the floodplain, new development techniques and engineering solutions can now preserve flood protection, enhance wetlands, improve recreation and make the way for critical housing solutions for Reno’s middle class. Flooding is a threat that Reno has dealt with for generations. Today, we’re more prepared than ever to deal with it the right way. Our future relies on the careful balance between state-of-the-art flood protection and responsible development.

Reno Landmarks
Built in the Floodplain
100 Year Floodplain
500 Year Floodplain

Wetlands

Reno is situated on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains in a valley that naturally collects runoff from the towering peaks to its west. The Truckee River passes through downtown Reno on its way to Pyramid Lake. In South Reno, tributaries like Steamboat Creek also create a sizable floodplain. But this is nothing new.

  • Wetlands

    Wetlands

    Reno is situated on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains in a valley that naturally collects runoff from the towering peaks to its west. The Truckee River passes through downtown Reno on its way to Pyramid Lake. In South Reno, tributaries like Steamboat Creek also create a sizable floodplain. But this is nothing new. In Washoe County, a substantial amount of the land that is now housing, business, and community infrastructure is built on the floodplain.

  • Development

    Development

    Development has come a long way since streams were shunted into pipes and ditches to make way for new homes. Today, innovative design can restore and enhance natural stream channels and wetlands, preserving them as both floodplains and as center pieces of new communities — places where residents gather and recreate in protected natural environments. Responsible floodplain development means preserving Reno’s flood capacity while also building homes for the next generation of Reno residents.

  • Restoration

    Restoration

    Wetlands are natural sponges that absorb flood waters efficiently. Healthy wetlands can act as a buffer to flood waters that are often exacerbated by the speed of runoff coming from pavement roofs and drainage ditches. Restoring natural wetlands to their prime natural function is an efficient way to increase a community’s resiliency to flood events.

  • Natural Enhancement

    Natural Enhancement

    Early development projects in Reno often removed water in the most efficient way possible. This typically meant channeling water into drainage ditches and pipes, sending water out of its natural channels. New development projects have the opportunity to restore these natural stream channels, enhancing the natural flood protections and environmental value of natural streams and wetlands.

  • Flood Capacity Enhancement

    Flood Capacity Enhancement

    The City of Reno requires a 1-to-1 replacement of any flood capacity lost during a development project in the city’s critical flood pool. But developers can often do more, adding even more flood capacity to the city during development projects. A 1.5-to-1 flood capacity replacement, for example, would make a development project a net benefit to flood protection for the City of Reno.

Frequently Asked Questions

Reno residents have long been aware of the region’s flood potential. But the flood issue is a complicated topic. Here are some of the answers to common questions on the topic.

What is a Floodplain?
Floodplains are designations created by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration and typically fall into one of two categories: the 100-year floodplain or the 500-year floodplain. The 100-year floodplain has a 1% chance of flooding in any given year and the 500-year floodplain has a 0.2% chance of flooding on any given year.
What is the Difference Between the Floodplain and the Critical Flood Pool?

The floodplain is a federal designation created by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration. Floodplain designations are consistent across the country and cover low-lying areas that have a higher probability of flooding. The critical flood pool is a designation created by the City of Reno in its master plan to highlight the properties throughout the city where maintaining flood capacity is important for city planning purposes.

Is Development in a Floodplain Allowed?

Development has occurred in Reno’s floodplain for decades. In fact many of the city’s landmark’s sit on the floodplain, including the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Reno City Hall, the Reno Events Center and entire neighborhoods in South Reno. Cities enact special regulations to govern development within floodplains, ensuring that project design protects property from flood damage as much as possible. The lowest finished floors of homes must be sited above the 117-year floodplain level and flood mitigation must occur for development within property designed by the city as the “critical flood pool.” Mitigation focuses on restoring any flood pool capacity lost during the building of the project. Both city planners and developers understand that development within the floodplain and the critical flood pool requires extra design consideration and flood mitigation measures.

Can Reno Address its Housing Crisis Without Responsible Floodplain Development?

Reno is in the midst of a housing crisis that disproportionately impacts its middle class. According to a Housing and Urban Development study on the Reno area, Reno is growing by an average of 7,575 people per year (1.7 percent) while only permitting 2,100 homes. This is occurring in a very tight housing market — the study estimated the 0.9 vacancy rate in the area.

These pressures on the housing market are forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. And the housing demand continues to be highest for “missing middle” housing — homes priced for middle class Reno families. These homes are the hardest to build because they receive little or none of the government tax credits or grant funding that low-income housing qualifies for, yet have to be priced at a level that makes for razor-thin margins for builders. If all floodplain development is taken off the table for housing, few undeveloped parcels are left within the city to accommodate the city’s much needed “missing middle” housing. Properties on steeper grades outside of the floodplain typically require additional site grading, utility extensions, and road construction costs, resulting in higher-priced homes that don’t meet the middle class demand.

Can you change a flood plain?
Yes. Floodplains are changed regularly when drainage improvements are constructed. In order to make a change to a floodplain, extensive engineering analysis and preliminary design must be done to demonstrate that the proposed change will not have negative impacts to properties upstream or downstream. The proposed change is reviewed first by the engineers at the local agency responsible, such as the City of Reno, City of Sparks or Washoe County. Once the local agency engineers have been satisfied with the analysis and preliminary design, the proposed change is sent to FEMA for review by their engineers. Once FEMA is satisfied that the proposed change will not have negative impacts upstream or downstream, they issue a Conditional Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR). This allows the construction of the new facilities to proceed. After construction is complete, a survey is done to confirm it is consistent with the CLOMR. That information is reviewed again by FEMA and once confirmed, FEMA issues a final Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) and the floodplain is official changed.

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