Of floods and cows
Expanded from the 1-1-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 12-2-2012

If your home or workplace are at all endangered by this weekend's rainfall, here are a few facts to keep in mind, especially if you plan to sue somebody.

The fabled hundred-year flood has come to these parts at least three times in the last half-century or so. That feeling seeping into your bones today may herald number four.

The most famous inundation came on Nov. 21, 1950, when the Truckee River overflowed its banks in downtown Reno and caused heavy property damage. Intrepid Nevada gamblers were apparently not fazed. Perhaps staged by smart PR men, photos wired worldwide showed Riverside Hotel slot players blithely feeding the bandits as water crept up to their knees.

Everybody forgot about it until 1986 when the next hundred-year sog sloshed into town.

How bad was it? Sparks Blvd. became a rushing river, drowning one hapless soul. Shades of Noah, it rained for days and the valley became a dangerous place, save for northwest Reno.

Turned out that the citizens of that area were the only ones who approved funding of a flood control project after the 1950 disaster. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had recommended substantial disaster improvements throughout the region, but only northwest Reno residents were enlightened enough to pay the tab for future generations.

The neighborhood today is network of gulches, culverts, berms, levees and lowlands all designed to keep lives and property safe. Much of it is disappearing under development, but a trip to the old northwest softball fields off Seventh St. easily reveals the contours. The Reno City Council placed a bronze plaque thereat to commemorate the completion of the project. It's still legible under the graffiti.

Northwest Reno residents will be the soundest sleepers in the Truckee Meadows tonight.

Alas and alack, if natural disaster is unpredictable, bureaucratic bungling is not.

The New Year's flood of 1997 trashed major parts of this valley. As we've seen this weekend, Mill Street from the Reno Hilton to E. McCarran is once again a low-lying lake. The lessons learned from 1997 are now being put to the test. Public officials should be held accountable because they cannot assert that nothing like this has happened recently.

Several months after the 1997 aquatic festival, redoubtable Reno News & Review reporter D. Brian Burghart published an extensive analysis of the flood and came to a startling conclusion: It was man-caused.

Most people don't know much about the federal watermaster's office, part of the federal district court system in Nevada since 1919.

According to the keepers of the University of Nevada Library's Special Collections, "the water master is an officer of the United States District Court for the State of Nevada. Funds to support the position do not come from the federal government but from the water users and litigants in the court actions on both (Truckee and Carson) river systems. The federal water master maintains an office in Reno and administers it as an independent, autonomous fiscal agent, subject to the approval of the court which also has the ability to terminate the position."

Burghart's research pointed the finger at long-suffering federal watermaster Garry Stone as the architect of the 1997 flood. I've known Mr. Stone more than 30 years and there is no more capable public servant. However, he was hamstrung by the law.

"A major flood situation developed in December 1996 when a series of wet Pacific storms quickly filled Lake Tahoe beyond its maximum limit by three inches or so, and federal watermaster Garry Stone was forced (by law) to open all the Tahoe gates and inundate Reno," according to local author Mark McLaughlin.

"The resulting flood caused $650 million in damages. Ironically, the current legal arrangement contains no provisions for protecting communities in the Truckee River floodplain if Tahoe water levels are too high. Until changes are made in the law, Reno will continue to be flooded out to protect even minimal shoreline erosion in the Tahoe Basin," McLaughlin writes.

It's a cautionary tale well worth keeping in mind as the new year launches in drip-dry mode.

MOO. The American electorate is a dumb cow which follows the herd, is easily stampeded, gets milked for all she's worth and produces offspring for use as meat or muscle to benefit the few. She is finally sent to slaughterhouse herself so that she may give her overlords the last full measure of devotion. Wave the flag, alleluia.

One wholly unreported story is making the rounds among veterans networks. It seems that an expanding number — some put it at several thousand a year ago – of U.S. Army reservists are going AWOL and not showing up for their second tours of duty in the Oil War.

The military-industrial complex is apparently so concerned about this that officials are doing nothing. It's such a huge potential embarrassment to Dubya's Dunces that the MP's would rather ignore what amounts to mass desertion.

Right wing moonhowlers like to trash peaceniks for hurting morale. I'd like to see them try to blame this problem on those who dare to criticize the current military madness.

BROKEN RECORD TIME — Once again, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers: If you've got a friend or relative influenced to enlist because of advertising, propaganda, John Wayne movies, video games or a nasty breakup with true love, treat it as drug addiction and perform an intervention. Get the kid help before he or she commits the ultimate act of teen rebellion, suicide via military service for no reason at all.

My position on war remains consistent with that submitted during Oil War I by a correspondent to the late, great San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen: I'm pro-life. And you should be, too

Be well. Raise hell.

Smoking Guns

Massive 1997 flood caused by paperwork
D. Brian Burghart / Reno News & Review 12-25-1998

Flood Money: Pray for salvation from acts of God because governments, flush with money, remain all wet
D. Brian Burghart / Reno News & Review 2-23-2006

How they flushed millions down the river
Jeff DeLong / Reno Gazette-Journal 12-1-2012

More flood plane talk

Sickening government
Barbwire by Barbano / Expanded from the 1-8-2006 Daily Sparks Tribune

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Copyright © 1982-2006-2012 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 43-year Nevadan, editor of and; and former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, He is producer of Nevada's annual César Chávez Day celebration and serves as first vice-president, political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail

Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in those parts ever since. Tempus fugit.

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