Washing Away Fears of a Flood

Improvements to the Las Vegas Wash give residents peace of mind, and one less bill to pay

By Zack Johnston

Part of what makes infrastructure development such an engaging topic is how these projects touch people’s lives in ways big and small. A great project is one that fixes a fundamental issue for a community and provides a clear and direct benefit to those impacted. Not many other water projects exhibit this quality quite like the Las Vegas Wash, which is why it has won American Infrastructure Magazine’s Water Project of the Year.

It was roughly a decade ago the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated this area of Las Vegas a flood zone, requiring that all residents living there be insured for flood damage.

FEMA conducted a Flood Insurance Restudy on the area surrounding the Las Vegas Wash in 2011, which raised limits of the Special Flood Hazard Area. About 1,700 structures found themselves to be in a flood zone.

In 2011, the Las Vegas Wash and its surrounding areas were designated a flood zone by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Not only did residents have to insure their properties, this meant that there was real concern that flood conditions would wreak havoc on the area and homeowners had to be diligent.

However, since August of this year those residents will no longer be required to purchase flood insurance – and they will rest a bit easier at night – thanks to improvements made to the Las Vegas Wash that subsequently lifted the designation.

In 2011, the Las Vegas Wash and its surrounding areas were designated a flood zone by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Not only have the flood zone limits been reduced, but the concerns of the residents to the dangers of flooding have been diminished,” said Steve Parrish, General Manager and Chief Engineer for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District.

Achieving this massive undertaking required detailed coordination between the Regional Flood Control District, Clark County Parks and Recreation, and the City of Las Vegas.

With costs totaling about $124 million, it was the largest single project the Regional Flood Control District has ever funded. A quarter percent sales tax in Clark County was used to generate the funds; approximately $78 million for the flood control portion, and $46 million for a sanitary sewer upgrade and other pieces of the project.

An improvement project of this size and urgency required careful planning between the Regional Flood Control District and Clark County. The area’s golf course had to be shut down for a year and half for practically a complete overhaul.

“With all of the logistics of removing the golf course and replanting the golf course, along with the road bridge construction, a significant amount of coordination was required by multiple agencies and utilities,” Parrish said.

The first phases, according to Parrish, utilized a Construction Manager at Risk delivery method with contractor Las Vegas Paving. The last phase of the project used low bid delivery. The bid concrete channel portion of the project upstream of the golf course was awarded to Ames Construction.

The lead design engineer was Ken Gilbreth, P.E. with CH2MHill, who along with his team received design help from Stanley Consultants, and lead contractor for the project was Bill Wellman.

“They did a remarkable job getting this project completed on time and on budget, particularly given the fact that Las Vegas Wash is an active channel,” Parrish said.

Channel improvements were made for a 2.7-mile reach of Las Vegas Wash in the eastern portion of the Las Vegas Valley.

To increase the water channel’s capacity, portions of it had to be lowered by up to 10 feet.

To ultimately increase water capacity, areas of the wash had to be lowered as much as 10 feet into the ground, and then the golf course was reconstructed. This also called for the reconstruction of a bridge that passes through the course, which is also part of Sahara Avenue, a major roadway.

Over 300,000 cubic yards of material were excavated in the golf course removal, which then had to be exported off site. This had to happen in concert with the Sahara Avenue bridge demolition and reconstruction. After the team rebuilt both the bridge and the course, a grow-in period was required to give the new grass ample time to take root and begin spouting up.

Making matters more interesting, the County chose to also take the opportunity to raze and reconstruct the golf course clubhouse, which in turn required upgrades to the sewer system.

“The City of Las Vegas requested that a $30 million sanitary sewer upgrade be included in the project,” Parrish said.

If it were not for the cooperation and support from multiple agencies, Clark County Parks and Recreation, and several utilities, this project could not have been completed as smoothly as it did.

About 1,700 structure have been required by FEMA to be insured for flood damage, but not anymore thanks to the improved Las Vegas Wash plan.

Not only has the completion of this project wiped away the area’s flood insurance mandate, the project has also already been tested by several good- size storms recently, and passed with flying colors.

“It is very satisfying to see the end result of years of hard work now improving the resiliency to flooding and providing the community some piece of mind that flood flows won’t damage their homes and businesses,” Parrish said.

Zack Johnston is an Assistant Editor with American Infrastructure Magazine. He can be reached at zack@builder.media.

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