County officials estimate recent storms and flooding have caused millions of dollars in damage to county infrastructure and private property, losses they hope will be covered by state and federal agencies.
A flood emergency in January likely caused $3 million to $3.5 million in damage, Merced County CEO Jim Brown reported Tuesday during a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
Damage costs likely will be even higher from flooding this month, including losses from flooding in the Le Grand area over the weekend, said Jeremy Rahn, deputy director for the Merced County Office of Emergency Services. A Cal-OES recovery expert will work with the county auditor to estimate losses and county expenses.
The Merced area received 6.51 inches of rain in January and 3.28 inches for February as of Tuesday, according to figures from the Merced County UC Cooperative Extension. Under normal years, Merced receives 2.6 inches of rain in January and about an inch of rain for the first two weeks of February, according to National Weather Service records.
“After six years of record drought, here we are experiencing record amounts of rainfall combined with increased releases from multiple reservoirs hitting maximum sustained capacity,” said Mark Lawson, deputy director of operations for Merced County OES. “As a result of these increases, Merced County is being severely impacted.”
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ratified the county’s state of emergency declaration, which was called last week.
Declaration of the local emergency enables the county to seek assistance and reimbursement from the state Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump was “keeping a close eye” on the crisis at Oroville Dam, which displaced nearly 200,000 people threatened by a possible failure of the emergency spillway. With the crisis stabilized for now, authorities said Tuesday that the evacuees can return home but should be prepared to move again if necessary.
Spicer said the crisis is an argument for Trump’s infrastructure plan, the details of which are still pending.
“The situation is a textbook example of why we need to pursue a major infrastructure package in Congress,” Spicer said. “Dams, bridges, roads and all ports around the country have fallen into disrepair. In order to prevent the next disaster, we’ll pursue the president’s vision for an overhaul of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”
County officials at the meeting gave a day-by-day breakdown of major events starting Feb. 7, when county employees used 150 sandbags to secure Miles Creek near Planada. Over the weekend, the Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department contacted Le Grand residents face to face to let them know about an emergency shelter set up in Merced at the Yosemite High campus.
The overflow of the spillways at Mariposa Reservoir, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was the first since the 1950s, county officials said.
The Merced Irrigation District also is releasing 6,000 cubic feet per second from Lake McClure down the Merced River.
Since the beginning of the month, at least 20 levees in the county have been breached or damaged, about 20 homes in Le Grand have sustained water damage and 100 roadways have been impacted by flooding.
The Office of Emergency Services, in conjunction with other county departments, is working to prepare for a new storm system predicted to arrive in the region Thursday by restocking sandbags and sand locations throughout the county and evaluating damaged creek banks.
As of midnight Monday, the two largest reservoirs in Merced County, Lake McClure and San Luis Reservoir, were both at more than 90 percent of their capacities, according to state data.
Residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting thanked county staffers for their work over the weekend but also noted the need for better maintenance along creeks and waterways, many of which became clogged with debris because of overgrown vegetation and brush.
Ezio Sansoni, a 78-year-old Atwater resident, said for years residents have asked for better maintenance of the creeks.
“We can’t have forests in the creeks,” he told the board. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477