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City increases wastewater treatment capacity in North Valleys for new developments


By Kelsey Penrose

The Reno City Council today approved the use of an additional 100,000 gallons per day of sewer capacity at the Reno Stead Water Reclamation Facility (RSWRF) following a presentation on Swan Lake capacity and usage. 

The city was previously sued and settled  a multi-million dollar lawsuit that alleged it had been negligent in the management of Swan Lake. This, according to residents, led to damages to homes and properties in the North Valleys after repeated flooding. 

According to city staff, there is limited sewer capacity remaining at the RSWRF connected to a short term capacity project that diverts or “shaves” the raw sewage flow to a pipe used to pump sludge to the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility for processing. 

While this project provides up to half a million gallons of sewer capacity, the council had only authorized a total of 125,000 gallons.

Sewer capacity was limited to allow the remaining flow potential to be used to reduce the volume of effluent going to Swan Lake, reducing the potential of flooding, according to city staff. 

“When we’re in a drought, we’re not thinking about floods. When it’s flooding, we’re never thinking about drought. But in Nevada we’re always either in droughts or floods.”

In November 2020, council approved the use of an additional 50,000 gallons of flow shave capacity for a total of 125,000 gallons of the 500,000 gallons of overall capacity. 

Staff today requested an additional 100,000 gallons, bringing the total to 225,000, which was approved with a 6-1 vote with Councilmember Jenny Brekhus voting against the increase. 

Brekhus said she was still not comfortable with approving additional flow capacity, and stated that the basin takes additional flows from unincorporated Washoe County, which is not tracked by those lands that are at flood risk. 

She also said the city is in a “bad place” because there isn’t certainty for development. 

“It’s a race. It’s hunger games to get your connections,” said Brekhus. 

A presentation was held detailing mitigation effects to keep water levels lower at Swan Lake to prevent future flooding from occurring, including constructing a pump to bring irrigation to American Flat Farm from April to October. 

According to staff, American Flat Farm pumped over 400 million gallons of water from Swan Lake during the irrigation season, equivalent to 1.1 million gallons per day or 1,200 acre feet of water.

However, as Councilmembers Brekhus and Naomi Duerr pointed out, the pumps would not be operating during the winter months when flooding is most likely to occur. 

Swan Lake flooding in 2019. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno

“This pumping does not give me confidence if we had an event which is very focused—like an atmospheric river—that this would save us,” said Brekhus. 

Duerr added that while we might be in drought conditions currently, weather can change rapidly and the city needs to be prepared for these events.

“When we’re in a drought, we’re not thinking about floods,” said Duerr. “When it’s flooding, we’re never thinking about drought. But in Nevada we’re always either in droughts or floods.”

Duerr also asked staff to provide updates on stormwater reservoir compliance checks. In a prior assessment it was found that 40% of the stormwater reservoirs were out of compliance, according to Duerr. 

“It would give me more confidence because …a portion of the problem at Swan Lake was due to overflowing or malfunctioning stormwater retention systems, and some percentage came from the sewage treatment plant,” said Duerr. “That’s one reason we did the flow shave.”

Flow shaving is not occurring because flows have not gone over the 2 million gallons per day amount. 

The reason for requesting additional capacity, according to staff, is due to expansion as well as for future projects that have already been approved, such as Evans Ranch, Silver Star Ranch, Prado Ranch and others, which total 1.57 million gallons per day of new developments. 

Prior to approval, there were only 5,000 gallons per day left to distribute, while 72,000 additional gallons per day capacity was needed.

The long-term solution for increasing wastewater treatment capacity, according to staff, is the expansion of RSWRF from 2 million to 4 million gallons per day; the Advanced Purified Water Facility; and the American Flat Aquifer Storage and Recovery project.

City staff projects the Advanced Purified Water Facility project to be completed in about three years. 

Council also approved an agreement with the Washoe County School District for provision of recycled water from the Reno Stead Water Reclamation Facility for landscape irrigation at O’Brien Middle School in an amount not to exceed $336,000.

Other council items 

Provided by the city and edited by This Is Reno.

Council approved the transfer of $5,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFR) to the Reno Bike Project to replace lost revenue due to COVID-19, and to allow the Bike Project to provide bike services to underserved children and adults within the community. 

Bikes at the Reno Bike Project. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

The item was brought to the council by Councilmember Oscar Delgado. The Reno Bike Project is a nonprofit which provides bike resources to community members. 

In Aug. 2021, council approved the use of SLFR funds to support items identified in Phase 1 of the implementation plan. 

Funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent no later than Dec. 31, 2026. The City of Reno is seeking proposals from the community to help identify areas of need and ideas that will help stop the spread of COVID-19, and continue to support the city and its residents on the path to recovery. 

Council also approved the following citizen appointments: 

  • Trish Greif (reappointment) and Sonya Lucatero (reappointment) to the Urban Forestry Commission.
  • Emmanuel Gutierrez, Maricela Gutierrez-Rodriguez, Jennifer Hildebrand, and Janna Moyer to the Ward 3 Neighborhood Advisory Board.
  • Lilith Baran to the Reno Arts and Culture Commission.
  • Council appointed Hillary Schieve to the Regional Transportation Commission. 

Council approved an Energy Performance Contract with Ameresco Inc. not to exceed $4.7 million for the new police station and public safety center.

The public safety center project will include:

  • 401kW rooftop solar array
  • 250kW battery module
  • Roof replacement 
  • A lighting retrofit of 27 parks around the city 

Implementation of this project will result in projected savings of 221,274 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electric energy, according to staff, and generate 776,486 kWh of electricity from solar energy annually.

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.