Environment

Merced Streams Group proposes location for Black Rascal Creek dam

Black Rascal Creek is the one creek running into Bear Creek that has no flood controls.

The result has been flooding in the Merced area -- most recently in 1998 and 2006.

Now the Merced Streams Group, headed by Merced County, has completed its own feasibility study for a catchment, or basin for collecting water, on Black Rascal Creek that may be the first step in ending the long-standing need to build flood protections along the creek.

Through a locally funded flood control study in 2008, the streams group chose a location on Yosemite Avenue as the least environmentally sensitive site for a potential flood basin.

The study recommended several other feasible sites along with the Yosemite Avenue location.

"This is all about houses downstream," said Kellie Jacobs of the county's Department of Public Works.

The focus on Black Rascal, said Jacobs, is because it's the main source of flooding downstream. During the last big flood in 2006, the main unchecked flow into Bear Creek came from Black Rascal.

If a catchment were to be built at the intersection of Yosemite Avenue and Black Rascal Creek, the basin would temporarily collect the waters behind a dike, letting out a limited volume.

The study was a first step in the process by the three bodies that make up the Merced Streams Group: Merced Irrigation District, the city of Merced and the county. The next step is a similar yearlong feasibility study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The $150,000 streams group study came out of local frustration in the face of Army Corps' inaction on the flood control project, said Jacobs.

Eleven years ago the streams group was put into what the Army Corps calls a general re-evaluation. Since then, little has been done to move the project forward.

"The locals don't want to sit back and wait for the Corps," said Jacobs.

Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said the county and the Army Corps have known of the flood problems along Black Rascal for years. And plans to create flood controls on the creek have been on the books for a long time. But environmental concerns stalled these efforts, she said. The original plan to deal with floodwaters was to build a reservoir called the Haystack Reservoir, which is farther up in the foothills.

"We have to fix this," she said. "It's a problem that will not go away."

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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