600 Nevada Flood Victims Get Share of $10 Million Settlement

About 600 victims of a flood caused by the failure of a century-old irrigation canal in Fernley, Nev. in 2008 have received their share of a $10 million settlement.

The settlement funds distributed last month stemmed from class-action lawsuits against the city of Fernley, Lyon County and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District board.

Under the settlement, Fernley paid $5 million and Lyon County $1.3 million, while insurance companies paid $3.8 million on behalf of seven irrigation district board members, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

The Jan. 5, 2008 breach of the earthen Truckee Canal sent a wall of water into Fernley, located about 30 miles east of Reno, and inundated homes. The plaintiffs allege the flood was caused by inadequate maintenance and operation of the canal.

Attorney Robert Maddox, who represents the plaintiffs, said $6 million was divided among flood victims, an estimated $3.3 million went to attorney’s fees, and $700,000 covered expert witness fees and other costs.

He said he “felt like Santa Claus” because checks were given to the flood victims on Dec. 23.

“(They are) people who desperately needed the money,” Maddox said. “They waited for four years. Their lives were torn apart, and it was nice to get them some of the money.”

The settlement reached last year states that the city, the county and the insurance companies denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to the deal to avoid further litigation.

But Maddox said the plaintiffs also might receive settlement money from other pending lawsuits that chiefly blame the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation and the irrigation district for failing to properly maintain the canal.

The suits contend the local governments shared responsibility because they knew or should have known the canal was in disrepair based on previous studies and warnings from the bureau.

Justice Department lawyers have said they have no interest in negotiating a settlement because they believe whatever liability might exist is the responsibility of the irrigation district in its capacity as contractual operator of the irrigation system that brings water from the Truckee River to more than 2,500 ranchers and farmers in northern Nevada east of Reno.

At a hearing last July, U.S. Magistrate Robert McQuaid Jr. acknowledged the deal had settled only a portion of the case.