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October 24, 2014

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Sloan Channel issue ‘bugs’ nearby homeowners

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Leila Navidi

North Las Vegas homeowner Rex Austin looks at his pool, in which he complains there is a growing number of fungus gnats and chronomid midges due to the North Las Vegas wastewater treatment plant’s release of water into Sloan Channel, on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011.

Sloan Channel

North Las Vegas homeowner Rex Austin stands near near Sloan Channel, which is located close to his home, on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011. Austin is complaining that the North Las Vegas wastewater treatment plant is releasing water into the channel that is causing growth in fungus gnats and chronomid midges around his home. Clark County and the plant are in a legal battle over the issue. Launch slideshow »

First came the stench. Now it’s the gnats and midges.

Water released into the Sloan Channel from the new wastewater treatment plant in North Las Vegas is making life a little more difficult for those who live near the concrete-lined channel.

Fungus gnats and chronomid midges, both of which live near rotting vegetation and damp areas, are growing in numbers along the channel, where they had never been seen before.

At least Rex Austin has never seen them. He has lived near the Sloan Channel for 52 years on Owens Road. Neighbors who gathered at his yard sale a few weeks ago said the same thing: They’ve never seen anything like it. Even when the temperature dipped into the 30s overnight last week, countless bugs swarmed during the day in Austin’s backyard.

“Sometimes, I’ll open the garage door and the sun is shining, and I’ll see a 3-foot ball of them,” he said.

There are so many dead bugs floating in his pool that “it looks like someone took a big handful of pepper and threw it in the water.”

“I hate to think what it’s going to be like when it gets warmer,” he said.

While treated wastewater released from the North Las Vegas plant seems to be causing the swarms, Clark County is the entity that’s being forced to do something about it because it owns the drainage channel.

Since August, the county’s Public Works Department has gone through the channel every six weeks with a scrubber truck, akin to a street sweeper, to clean the concrete, and every four weeks an all-terrain vehicle drives down the channel, dragging a steel drag mat to scrape off the algae.

It’s not working, though, and county officials admitted they might have to increase the frequency of the channel cleanings.

Response from North Las Vegas city officials will have to wait; they are on vacation this week.

The bug problem adds another layer of frustration to a legal battle between Clark County and North Las Vegas.

The two governments are suing each other over use of the channel. North Las Vegas wants to obtain a legal declaration of its right to use the channel; Clark County is suing because the city is using the channel without the county’s permission. Officials are trying to resolve the issue outside of court, said County Commissioner Tom Collins, in whose district much of the channel passes.

“This doesn’t help things,” Collins said of recent bug complaints his office has received.

Residents began complaining of a sewage-like smell from the channel almost as soon as the treated water began flowing in early summer.

At the time, North Las Vegas officials said they didn’t detect any of the odors disgusting people living near the channel.

Insect clouds might be a little more difficult to dismiss.

In emails obtained by the Sun, the county’s Public Works Department identified the insects as fungus gnats and chronomid midges. Though midges look like oversized mosquitoes, neither they nor the gnats are known to bite people. Staff said the very warm water coming out of the treatment plant is likely the culprit behind what appears to be hearty breeding by the two insect species.

“If the release temperatures were 40 degrees or less (currently average 90 degrees), we probably wouldn’t have this issue,” one county employee said in an email. “Warm water allows for the life cycle to continue in our pest flies. Then when warm air temperatures reach the mid-50s, mating swarms become active. Normally the eggs, larvae and/or pupae would overwinter until spring, but in this cycle it is like spring all the time.”

North Las Vegas had not always intended to use the channel. At one point, plans were to build a multimillion dollar underground pipeline to carry the treated water toward Lake Mead. That plan fell apart with the dismantling of the Clean Water Coalition, which had been collecting money through a sewer fee to construct $800 million in wastewater pipelines.

Without the pipeline, the city and county began to negotiate for the city’s use of Sloan Channel.

The city had offered to pay Clark County $50,000 to maintain and clean the channel in return for a discharge permit. Clark County, though, wanted more. The county’s proposed deal included language that North Las Vegas would not be able to solicit Nellis Air Force Base as a customer for nine years; the base’s wastewater is treated by Clark County.

North Las Vegas didn’t like that deal, nor the way county commissioners derided North Las Vegas for its planning of the $280 million treatment plant. Two days later, North Las Vegas began discharging the water without county approval.

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  1. Rex: don't short change the acceptable chlorine and disinfectant dosage to your pool, as that will also increase the population of bugs, regardless of the Sloan Canal.

  2. Two observations. 1. Isn't it nice that two municipal organizations cannot get together to solve a problem for the common good of their respective constituents. That they have to fight over the spoils (Nellis's waste water) like private company competitors! And 2. if Rex is primarily complaining about the "pepper looking bugs" in his water, judging by the pics I suggest he take a closer look at the overall quality of the water and cleanliness of the pool itself.

  3. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Owners of homes near the Sloan Channel who are being bothered by this "nuisance" of bugs and foul odors need to band together, hire a lawyer, and sue the City of North Las Vegas. The legal claim is the "common law of nuisance" which, if the homeowners win, allows the court to issue an injunction mandating that the nuisance stop, i.e. that the City of North Las Vegas stop putting treated sewage water in the Sloan Channel or a huge monetary damage award against both the party creating the legal nuisance, the City of North Las Vegas, and the property owner Clark County where the nuisance is being allowed to continue to exist.

    There's also a Federal legal theory which can be pursued, called "inverse condemnation" (a taking by a government agency of one's right to use and enjoy one's real estate without payment by the government agency.) The filing of an inverse condemnation case against North Las Vegas in Federal Court would get the case away from any taint of politically motivated judges, because Federal judges are appointed with "life time tenure" and no one can frighten them into "doing the wrong thing" to protect powerful interests like the City of North Las Vegas and Clark County, and their elected officials.

    The risk to the homeowners and their families if they don't act is that the channel will become a breeding ground for bugs carrying West Nile Virus, which in the case of my brother in law put him in a coma for a month, nearly killed him, and has left him permanently paralyzed on his entire right side. As a result of the paralysis, he's lost his job, is about to lose his home to foreclosure, and has caused him to be repeatedly hospitalized for subsequent effects of the virus. West Nile destroys the immune system of those who live through it, and my brother in law has been repeatedly attacked by other viruses and bacterial infections as a result of the virus. Last year West Nile Virus was detected in the Las Vegas Wash in the open space right below the apartments on Ramrod Ave. in Henderson, so don't believe anyone who says it is not found in Las Vegas.

    While the owner of the Sloan Channel, Clark County, initially showed some interest in stopping North Las Vegas from dumping sewer water in the channel, their legal efforts to protect the County's property rights and the health of its residents has clearly fallen flat under the legal stewardship of the County's attorneys. For lack of a better term, the County Commissioners were out-foxed by the North Las Vegas City Council and their lawyers, and clearly the County Commissioners are in no big hurry to protect their taxpayers.

    Bottom line, Clark County politicians and their lawyers cannot be trusted to do anything competently. If the homeowners living along and near the channel won't bring legal action to protect themselves from North Las Vegas' sewer water and its disgussting and unhealthy effects, no one else will.

  4. Thank you, Cynical Observer, for your commentary and suggestions. Since I am and have a direct connection living next to the North Las Vegas Waste Water Treatment Plant, and have experienced the nuisance bugs, annoying sounds generated at this facility 24/7, smells, visual pollution, and extreme losses in my property value, I have tried to gather citizens on East Carey Avenue on these issues. Most of them feel "helpless" with any of the involved government agencies. No one seems to care about us here.

    If anyone knows of an attorney who is willing to assist us taking them all on as a class action suit, please let me know. You can Facebook me with a message or use my log name here plus at yahoo.com. This is a serious problem, and our neighborhoods are the real victims.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  5. I was just wondering if any other people are having issues and being treated for bacteria infection multiple times since the water stated running down the Sloan Channel? I have been having repeat issues as well as my grandson and a neighbor... We need to find a lawyer that is willing to step up for the people and get this issue handled... I heard it will be covered but when and how many people have to get sick before that is done? I am tired of this and worry about the health of all of us that are living in this direct area.