Should I go with the flow? USACE/Nevada Dept. of Water Resources educational game simulates water management challenges

Posted 3/10/2017 on the USACE website by Paul Bruton, Terri Rorke, and Tyler Stalker – Interested in trying the game? Download it at:

It’s beginning to drizzle. Heavy rains are expected within the hour. The lake and rivers continue to rise. At what point would you open the gates and let water flow?

If you wait too long, you end up with more water than your storage facility can handle. Release water too soon, and you add stress to downstream levees. Oh, and while you’re deciding on water flow, let’s also put you in charge of managing limited financial resources and emergency repair crews.

Not only are these real-life decisions occurring across northern California and Nevada this winter, but they are also the primary challenge in a new educational game produced by the State of Nevada Department of Water Resources in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District.

The game, appropriately called “Flood Fighter: Nevada,” is designed to teach its audience about the complexities of the flood control system and balancing water management demands  – or as Hunter Merritt describes the game, “It is a 21st Century communication tool for an audience that might not get this message otherwise.”

Merritt, a water resources planner for the Sacramento District, saw it as an opportunity to create a fun, interactive game that communicates flood risk and empowers users to make risk-informed decisions. And it couldn’t have launched at a more appropriate time.

This particular version of Flood Fighter features water management scenarios set in areas of Nevada – which like Northern California, has been dealing with more water than they can handle. In fact, a rural Nevada county declared a state of emergency on February 10 after an earthen dam failed, releasing fast-moving water that forced trains to reroute and closed part of a state highway.

Mike Nielson, hydrologic technician for the Corps, explains that water management and flood risk management concepts are very complex and hard to teach. “The game helps students learn these complex topics without actually teaching them,” he said. “We want students to have fun playing the game and learning at the same time. It allows for critical thinking.”

Nielson and Merritt started coming up with ideas for the game about two years ago. Partnering with the State of Nevada helped transform it from concept to reality. To help make the scenarios accurate, the team worked with Nevada’s State Flood Plain Manager Bunny Bishop and the Silver Jackets’ Flood Risk Management Program.

Bishop is excited about the game’s ability to turn something that might be seen as a dry and complex topic by some, into a subject of interest. “I think we could use this beyond the original target of middle-schoolers and interest high schoolers with it as well,” she said. “The way my 15-year-old daughter responded to the game is very encouraging.”

Merritt is thrilled about the game’s launch. On the day of the game’s release, Merritt raised his hands in the air and said, “I’m already thinking of the next version–Flood Fighter: California!”

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Darren Suen has been selected for the Board’s new Policy Advisor position. He performed this function in Acting capacity for the last year, working to raise awareness about the Board’s role in flood management and to advance flood policies that support public safety and provide benefits to the environment and agriculture communities. Prior, Darren was the Department of Water Resources serving as Program Lead and Policy Advisor for the Assistant Division Chief of the Flood Management Division and the Deputy Director in Flood Operations Center during flood emergencies. Darren has a long career in program management and flood control, working in private, State, and federal agencies. Currently, he also serves as a member of the Elk Grove City Council. Congratulations to Darren!

Michael Wright has been selected to fill the Chief Engineer position beginning April 2, 2019. Michael has been with the Board since 2011. During his tenure, Michael has held multiple supervisory positions, including Enforcement Section Chief, Acting Operations Branch Chief, and Plan Implementation and Compliance Branch Chief. For the past eight months, he has been filling the Chief Engineer role. Congratulations, Michael Wright.