Little damage found in Sutter
Terry Buwals grows peaches, but you wouldn't guess it by the look of his orchard.
A levee break on his neighbor's property this week opened the path for Yuba River water, which washed through his 85-acre property on Simpson Lane in Linda.
Government officials say there is little damage to report in Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties. But the area's agricultural lands did not escape nature's wrath unscathed.
Buwals' orchard looks like a set from a Tim Burton film - a place
where you would go to get spooked, not pick fruit. Formerly neat rows of trees eerily protrude from heaps of soil like beaten stick-men, bowing to each other as if to acknowledge the assault they have endured together.
Flood water created hills, gulleys and a vast beach where fruit trees once stood.
The pools in his orchard will eventually drain off and evaporate, he said.
“But the sand is not going to go anywhere - and the rocks. How do you farm rocks?" he lamented.
Buwals has seen the land flood before.
“I never thought in my lifetime I'd see this again," he said.
Sawarn Basrai, who owns the land where the levee broke, said he has seen it happen three times before. After the 1997 flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put the earthen wall back together. On New Year's, water once again flooded his orchard, washing soil from beneath trees' roots. Like tight-rope walkers, some walnut trees stood suspended above pits where they were planted 40 years ago. Their roots clung to sand around the hollowed ground.
After the 1986 flood, Buwals' family paid about $60,000 to level hills so it could be farmed again. Some areas have never produced as well as they did prior to the flood, Buwals said.
“I just can't get them to snap back," he added.
Buwals figures the levee break caused more than $100,000 worth of damage. He won't know the severity until the trees come out of dormancy.
“Time will tell," said Kevin Roush, Yuba County assistant agriculture commissioner. “If the roots stay under water for a long time, they'll dye off."
In addition to the Simpson Lane damage, about 2,000 acres of walnuts, peaches and prunes are as much as 70 percent submerged in the Feather River bottom, Roush said.
A similar scene exists in Colusa County, where Sacramento River water is backing into orchards and wheat fields. Two weeks of spotty, heavy rain and high winds felled almond trees, said John Richter, Colusa County deputy agriculture commissioner.
“All of the roots are saturated so much; it weakens them and the wind just knocks them over," Richter said.
Curt Aikens, general manager of Yuba County Water Agency, said the agency will have to clear debris from screens and clean up after a few mudslides.
Sutter County faired pretty well, according to Mark Brown, assistant agriculture commissioner for Sutter County. He said he would normally see downed trees after such a windy few days.
“But we're not finding any of those," he said.
Sutter County's most affected area was in the south of the county, where alfalfa fields are waterlogged.
“Everything else is pretty much dormant this time of year," Brown said.
Sutter County Administrator Larry Combs said he was unaware of any significant damage in the county aside from the Natomas Cross Canal.
Though relatively little damage was done in the Mid-Valley, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Yuba and Sutter counties, allowing local governments to recover costs they incur as a result of the storm, said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.
On Wednesday, a group of California senators and representatives urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration to help in the preliminary assessment of Northern California flood damage.
Though businesses owners in flooded towns like Guerneville have begun sweeping sludge from their doorsteps, farmers wait to assess their damages.
“If we have more storms and the bypasses keep flowing, the orchards will be hurt," Richter said. “But if the weather stays good, we'll be in good shape."
Forecasters say the Mid-Valley is in for some rain this weekend, but it won't be anything like last weekend's barrage.
“I think we're OK," said National Weather Service forecaster Karl Swanberg.
But Buwals is weary. He said he is not sure what to do about his Simpson Lane orchard at this point.
“Do you go out and start repairing, or wait to see if it will happen again?"
Appeal-Democrat reporter Eve Hightower can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.