By Amanda Ketchledge
Las Vegas, NV- In the last couple of weeks, Nevada has received some much needed rain, but the recent storms have created a risk of flash flooding in parts of the drought-stricken state as parched land and terrain are slow to absorb the water.
Clark County was particularly hit hard on July 28 when a neighborhood on Mount Charleston turned into a river of mud and debris.
“The flooding comes down rapidly, literally within 10 minutes, the rain starts,” said Dan Berc, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. “A lot of debris washed down because of the fire and produced pretty substantial damage.”
Three homes were destroyed and several other properties suffered minor damage in only a matter of minutes.
“They experienced two inches of rain in a period of less than an hour, and they had some very high impact flooding,” said Berc.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Clark County and Boulder City that day due to concern from the burn scars on Mount Charleston after the Carpenter One Fire from last July.
The fire burned 28-thousand acres and took three weeks to contain. The National Interagency Fire Center said it was considered “the highest ranked priority fire in the nation” during the summer of 2013. Due to the aftermath of the wildfire, the area is especially at risk for flash flooding. A lack of vegetation to absorb and reduce any runoff has caused the threat of flooding to be increased from the burn scars.
“In some cases, the fire can burn so hot that the soil’s chemistry is changed and it becomes hydrophobic so that it wont absorb water,” said Suzanne Shelp of the U.S. Forest Service.
With nowhere for the water to go, the residents of Rainbow Subdivision were left without any protection. Clark County Commissioners issued a state of emergency after the disaster and proposed a federal flood diversion project to secure the neighborhood. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered to build a barrier that would divert the water over the ridgeline and away from homes.
“The Army Corps builds the structure, then somebody has to take ownership of it and maintain it,” said Shelp. “We couldn’t find anyone that was willing to step up and do that.”
The state has been in negotiation with the federal government to take legal liability and maintenance of the construction, but the agencies failed to come to an agreement over the proposed project.
Future flooding is a strong possibility for the residents of Rainbow Subdivision, but even with flood control, nothing can be guaranteed. The Forest Service put in an armored deflection channel on one of the trails of Mount Charleston last year and it failed. Cathedral Trail is closed and still poses a threat to flooding.
The work is not done yet in Southern Nevada. Several different organizations are putting in efforts to reduce the risk of future flash floods.
“They’re working on the flood control system up there but its all going to take time,” said Berc. “As we go forward, I expect the flash flooding risk to be reduced over time.”