Are you aware of Washoe County Ballot Question 1?

With lots of attention on statewide ballot questions in Nevada, the Washoe County Ballot Question 1 concerning property tax and flooding has gone largely unnoticed. Kacee Johnson reports with data visuals by Maggie Schmutz.


 Washoe County Ballot Question 1 aims to increase property tax to support the Flood Protection Project managed by the Truckee River Flood Management Authority. This tax would add $0.0248 per $100 to raise funds for projects to protect properties that are prone to flooding along portions of the Truckee River. In 1997, the Truckee Meadows area experienced a flood that caused damage in excess of $1.0 billion — equivalent of annual damages estimated from $22 to $52 million.


What is the argument supporting this measure?


By passing this measure, the Truckee River Flood Management Authority says it will come closer to securing $182 million in federal aid for the Flood Protection Project.


“It’s a very complicated issue of what they’re trying to do,” said Adrian Harpold, an assistant professor of environmental science, at the University of Nevada, Reno.


But with the election just a week away, coverage of WC-1 has been sparse.


Voting “yes” on WC-1 will increase property tax to fund the project. Arguments in favor of the tax look to the extensive damage caused by the 1997 Truckee flood.


The Truckee River is what’s called a 50 year flood, meaning that the river has a one in 50 chance of flooding each year, or a two percent chance. The Truckee River Flood Management Authority looks to engineer the flood to become a 100 year event through the Flood Protection Project. Instead of the river having a two percent chance of flooding each year, the TRFMA says the changes would make it so the Truckee River would drop to one percent in any given year.


“It’s much more unlikely to happen,” said Harpold. “But when it does happen, [the flood] will wreak havoc. Downtown Reno is prone to flooding, and there will be large economic damage to life and property in the area.”


The Flood Protection Project aims to construct levees and flood walls along the Truckee River and widen the Truckee river channel at the Vista Narrows, an industrial area prone to flooding. The project also outlines plans to increase the elevation of homes within the home elevation project boundaries.


 Infographic by Maggie Schmutz.


Why are people opposing this measure?


Arguments against this tax increase compare the 2017 flood with the 1997 flood. The most recent flood in 2017 had a smaller impact than in 1997.


The flood project’s plan doesn’t answer important questions that would help voters decide if the $30 tax, based on a $350,000 home, is worth voting into effect.


“I don’t really feel comfortable voting on this issue,” said Claire Carlson, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, studying international affairs and environmental policy. “I need to know the impact that this project will have on the environment and people in Reno before I can make a decision.”


According to Harpold, we need to be asking questions about how things are going to change in the future.


“How will the flooding change?” asked Harpold. “Our city is growing at a fast rate, and this needs to be taken into account in the flood project.”


Reno’s population has grown quickly in recent years. According to a study conducted by EPIC Committee, which is part of EDAWN promoting growth in the area, Reno’s population near the river has increased by 22 percent from 2015 to 2019 projections.


“With climate change, we’re going to see more of these flooding events. There’s no discussion about how these things are changing,” said Harpold. “If we’re investing $180 million into the Flood Protection Project, we need to look at how it will affect us in the future.”


Voter awareness of WC-1 is low, and the impacts of the flood management project are unknown. Nevada is no stranger to confusing ballot questions, as exemplified by Ballot Questions 1 and 3 in #NevadaVote’s earlier story, The Confusion Surrounding Nevada’s Many Ballot Questions.


Reporting by Kacee Johnson with infographic by Maggie Schmutz for the Reynolds Sandbox
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