Levee work

Workers dig up dirt atop the levee at Second Street on Thursday in Yuba City as part of a major flood control project upgrade. 

Considering the events of this past winter and the problems they posed to Yuba-Sutter levees, officials are confident the improvements made over the past several months will withstand the upcoming flood season. There are, however, still vulnerabilities to keep in mind.

One of the most visible improvement projects is the 2.9 miles of levee protecting downtown Yuba City, which is being carried out by the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency. The emergency repair project is still underway, but Executive Director Mike Inamine said crews are in the final stretch and will likely finish by Thanksgiving.

“As long as the weather stays fair and we don’t experience any extended periods of rain, we are looking to complete the repairs and heavy civil construction by the deadline (end of November),” Inamine said. “Nonetheless, the physical elevation of the tops of the levees, even in their current condition, is above the 200-year water surface elevation, meaning there is a physical barrier between the river and protected areas that is at or exceeds a 200-year level of protection right now.”

The reach of levee that extends from just north of the 10th Street bridge to the Whiteaker Hall area south of the Fifth Street Bridge in Yuba City saw everything from sinkholes and boils to seepage issues this past winter. By replacing the slurry wall, the agency is hoping to mitigate, if not eliminate, those issues during future high water.

If past performance is any indication of how the agency’s work will turn out, then Yuba City will be much better off than it was. Two years ago, it completed a stretch of levee improvements in the Levee District 9 area – which stretches about six miles from north Yuba City near Pease Road to the Live Oak area – as part of the massive Feather River West Levee Project.

“Our section of the levee where slurry wall was completed by SBFCA about two years ago looks great still,” said Mike Morris, a Levee District 9 board member. “We didn’t experience any problems this past flood season. We didn’t have seepage or anything.”

The district conducted 24/7 patrols of the levee last winter during high-water events, but Morris and others never saw signs of seepage or boils.

In Yuba County, Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority Executive Director Paul Brunner said the county’s levees, overall, are in good shape heading into the next flood season. TRLIA works throughout Yuba County but has largely focused its efforts on improving levees in the southwestern portion of the county (which protect areas like Plumas Lake, Arboga, Linda and Olivehurst). There are also plans to improve the levees in the goldfields area.

“We didn’t run into any particular issues this past winter. We are close to finishing work on the Western Pacific Interceptor Canal, most likely finishing up around the end of next week,” Brunner said. “Overall, the levee system is in good order.”

Work on the Western Pacific Interceptor Canal has been ongoing for about two years, he said. The work included placing additional cutoff walls, berms and a land-side access corridor to allow maintenance crews to access the levee during winter months. Once completed, that levee will have a 200-year level of flood protection. 

Additional improvements

Other reaches of levee along the Feather River south of Yuba City also experienced issues this past winter, both due to the high water and the Department of Water Resources’ rapid fluctuation of releases out of Lake Oroville brought on by the spillway failure.

One area that has been a concern for the agency is a reach between Star Bend Road and Laurel Avenue, where heavy seepage and boils kept flood fighters busy even when the water surface elevation was “relatively low,” Inamine said.

SBFCA carried out $5 million worth of emergency repairs to a roughly 5-mile stretch, which included placing a rock berm on the land side to mitigate seepage issues and backfilling irrigation ditches that showed signs of distress.

Inamine said the state also took steps to improve two reaches that were impacted last winter. One project included water side erosion repairs near the Fifth Street Bridge, where DWR basically laid rock on the water side of the levee to mitigate the chance of sloughing. Another project involved repairs south of Laurel Avenue where a land side rock berm was placed to further prevent under-seepage.

Problem area

Though much has been done to improve Yuba-Sutter’s levees, there is still one stretch that poses a risk, Inamine said. 

The reach of levee between Star Bend Road and Cypress Avenue south of Yuba City has seen some interim repairs, but no long-term fixes have been implemented.

“If we have another high-water event, we could see some seepage in that area,” Inamine said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for repairing that stretch of levee. The project was authorized in 2014, and again in 2016, but no real action has occurred.

However, SBFCA held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss what still needs to be done to advance the project. Inamine said the meeting was encouraging, and that long-term repairs could happen within the next couple of years. 

“That effort to garner appropriations for repairs to the approximately 4.9-mile reach that we flood fought this past season is going on right now,” Inamine said. “We are encouraging Congress and the administration to appropriate the funds to fix that soon through the federally-authorized project.”


Legislators say there is a need for additional state funding

Local Assemblyman James Gallagher and state Sen. Jim Nielsen have been vocal this past year about how state lawmakers need to put more emphasis on repairing the state’s flood-control system, particularly its levees. 

The state allocates $30 million annually for levee repairs. Gallagher and Nielsen said that allocation is only a drop in the bucket. That’s why they spearheaded an effort earlier this year to have the state set aside an additional $100 million annually, which was denied.

But their effort received some support earlier this week during a Department of Water Rescources press conference regarding flood risk management, in which the Central Valley Flood Protection Board President Bill Edgar said the state needs to start doing more every year, and that starts by investing an additional $100 million annually.

“Moving forward, we are hopeful that the Democratic supermajority will reconsider our request next year and make flood control a serious priority in the state budget,” said Gallagher and Nielsen in a joint statement following Monday’s press conference. “This investment will help protect lives, preserve property and save the state billions in economic losses and emergency repairs.”

Mike Inamine, executive director of the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency, said the agency and the DWR have been advocating for additional levee funding from the state for years. Such an increase in investment would prove to be significant for rural areas like the Yuba-Sutter area, he said, because those regions have not seen the type of significant repairs and improvements to the flood-control system as are needed.

“There is a backlog of deferred maintenance that needs to be chipped away, and the only way to do that is through annual appropriation,” Inamine said.


DWR: Tips for being ‘flood ready’

It’s California Flood Preparedness Week and with the start of the flood season (Nov. 1) just around the corner, the California Department of Water Resources is urging residents to be extra prepared this year for the possibility of a flood.

“Extreme weather and natural disasters are a way of life in California,” said Jon Erickson, acting chief of DWR’s Flood Management Division, in a press release. “Taking the right steps now can mean all the difference to you and your family if flooding occurs.”

Many areas around the state are at a higher risk of flooding this year because of wildfire damage and the potential for mudflows due to debris and ash left from the fires, DWR said.

DWR is encouraging homeowners and residents to take the following precautions to prepare for the upcoming winter storms:

– Talk to your insurance agent about buying flood insurance, or contact the National Flood Insurance Program for information at 1-800-427-4661

– Make an evacuation kit. Tips are available at: wrongheadedness/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/make-a-plan

– Make an evacuation plan. Familiar routes may not be accessible during a flood.

– Stay informed during heavy storms.

– Don’t walk or drive through flood waters. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.

– More information is available at: www.ready.gov/floods 

*DWR also cautions the public not to wait if they are told to evacuate, as first responders may not be able to reach residents later.

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