Residents in the areas of Dry Valley and Panaca were advised to voluntarily evacuate their homes in the late evening of Wednesday, March 15. As a result of heavy rainfall throughout the week, several areas in northern Lincoln County were deemed impassable by NDOT earlier in the day. State Route 322 from Eagle Valley Resort to Spring Valley State Parks was closed due to flooding and destruction of roadways. Areas in Dry Valley were reported to be underwater and only accessible to high-terrain vehicles by mid-morning. By 9:30 a.m., Nevada State Parks closed Spring Valley State Parks and the upper campground at Echo Canyon State Park due to flooding concerns. Residents in the Ursine and Dry Valley areas reported being trapped due to mud or high water. Sheriff’s office updates warned travelers to be safe and advised against attempting to cross water on the roadways.
As the rains progressed, large amounts of water began to rush over the emergency spillway of Echo Dam, east of Pioche.
Just before 8:30 p.m., Lincoln County Commissioners received urgent notice about Echo Dam, just as a public hearing adjourned. Commissioners then called an emergency meeting to receive the phone call that would announce clear danger at Echo Dam. It was estimated that failure of Echo Dam could result in waters reaching Panaca within the span of two hours. Though homes were not expected to wash away, widespread property damage, loss of roadways and a need for dam repairs and relief efforts could be expected. Commissioners notified Nevada governor Joe Lombardo’s office, and an Emergency Declaration was placed in effect for Lincoln County to prepare for the loss of Echo Dam.
By 10:00 p.m., two of three pylon rock barriers washed away and a third was showing signs of heavy damage. The Lincoln County Office of Emergency Management announced that if the fourth barrier were to fail, the dam itself could erode and fail.
Just before 11:00 p.m., the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office reported that residents were using resources to divert flood waters in Condor Canyon, just north of Panaca’s hot spring, and residents west of Third Street were warned to evacuate due to the potential for the dam breach. Residents south of Panaca, in Caliente and Beaver Dam Estates locations, were placed on advisory.
Shelter was made available in Pioche at the LDS church for the residents of Dry Valley. Shelters for Panaca residents were opened at both Lincoln County High School’s gym and the LDS church in Panaca. At the time of the announcement, heavy flooding was visible in the fields just outside Panaca and water continued to rise at the edge of roads near the Y Service Station.
The Lincoln County Office of Emergency Management and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office continued to monitor the emergency and provide the public with updates via social media throughout the evening and into the early hours of Thursday morning. A 2 a.m. update from Emergency Management announced that the third rock barrier was holding up. Material below the spillway started washing out and had reached nearly 30 feet deep at the time of reporting. Residents were advised that resources would be coming to the area to assist. Crews are expected to fly over Echo Dam and the other dams in the county to assess any further damage as soon as possible.
The Lincoln County School District canceled classes for schools in Pioche, Panaca and Caliente on Thursday.