Glimpse of sun is salve for crews
A rare glimpse of the sun Wednesday provided welcome relief from rainy weather for levee districts.
But more precipitation is on the way. And the state remains on 24-hour flood watch until the rivers come down, including the Sacramento River - an unusual occurrence for April in what has been an unusually wet year, according to state and local officials.
For districts along the Sacramento River, the rain has been even more unwelcome than for the average person. Crews there have been on constant patrols for weeks, watching and guarding levees that could be saturated from months of high water.
“I wish it would go away and so does the crew,” said Jack Bailey, field manager for Reclamation District 1500. The district maintains 55 miles of levees in the Robbins area along the Sacramento River and Sutter Bypass.
This has been a soggy year. January started wet, February was more normal, but March has been extremely rainy with water flowing over most of the Sacramento River weirs.
“That's unique to have that kind of water in the system so late,” said Gary Bardini, chief of the hydrology branch for the state's joint operations center.
Even in April, RD 70/1660 and RD 1500 are back to 24-hour patrols because of high water on the Sacramento River, which is more than 3 feet above the monitor stage at the Fremont Weir.
The Feather River at Marysville/Yuba City was at 57.25 feet Wednesday at 7 p.m. and falling - below the 65-foot level that requires patrols.
State flood officials held a press conference Wednesday to brief the media on the condition of levees and rivers. There was no significant flood-fighting activity reported.
Ron Long, general manager for RD 70/1660, of Meridian, said this has been an exceptional year - one that happens every five or 10 years. The last one like it was in 1983, he said.
“I would say it's kind of unusual,” Long said.
State water officials also had to look back to 1983 to find as wet a season as this year.
Reclamation District 70/1660 has had two or three times the typical number of days with levee patrols, said Long, The district maintains about 35 miles of levees along the Sacramento River and Sutter Bypass that protect Meridian.
RD 1500 has been patrolling levees just about every day since Dec. 21, only getting seven days off during that time, said Bailey. That makes for 67 days of patrols - many of them 24 hours.
“It just seems like it's just relentless,” Bailey said.
The rainy weather has been hard on levees as well as maintenance crews.
Long said having water on levees for long periods of time can be trouble for problems like seepage. “They get really saturated,” he said.
But so far, there have been no trouble spots for the district, he said. Even one spot that is on the state's list of critical erosion sites has held up OK.
RD 1500 reported no trouble spots, either.
“Things have been behaving quite nicely for us,” Bailey said. “The system is behaving like it was designed to do.”
While the levees are holding up, the districts' budgets are definitely taking a hit from all the patrolling.
The possibility that a warm storm will bring down snow from the mountains is also a concern.
Conditions like earlier this week that combined warmer temperatures with rain, prompting dam operators to open the flood gates, worry Bailey. Warm rain on top of snowmelt can unleash the moisture all at once.
The latest storm dumped 5 to 8 inches of rain in a wide area from the Feather-Yuba watershed to the Kings River basin, said Andy Morin, with the California Nevada River Forecast Center.
Because reservoirs are topped off from the moisture, water will continue to be released downstream as dam operators make room for snowmelt.
And the outlook for Friday calls for more rain. A storm system is moving in that will be followed by yet another system, said Elizabeth Morse, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The storm's flood potential depends on how long it hangs around. The more the storm system lingers in the Pacific, the more moisture it picks and the warmer it gets, Morse said.
“We're looking at a fairly soggy weekend,” she said.