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Can Merced prevent a repeat of last year’s winter flood?

COUNTY OF MERCED PHOTOAn aerial shot of Bear Creek in Merced is shown after heavy rains in January 2023 resulted in water flooding into residential areas.
COUNTY OF MERCED PHOTO
An aerial shot of Bear Creek in Merced is shown after heavy rains in January 2023 resulted in water flooding into residential areas.

By CHRISTIAN DE JESUS BETANCOURT

CV Journalism Collaborative

Nearly a year after record rains brought devastating floods to the region, Merced leaders say they’re prepared in the event another large winter storm drenches the city.

Merced City Manager Scott McBride recently updated the City Council on what preparations have been made to prevent a repeat of the flood that caused millions of dollars in damages and displaced many residents.

McBride briefed the council on Dec. 18 at the request of Mayor Matthew Serratto. “The drought has subsided. However, the water that we did receive (brought) a lot of local emergencies and ongoing recovery efforts for residents,” McBride said.

On Jan. 9, fast-moving waters from Bear Creek rose to over 26 feet after a storm hit Merced County, causing property damage due to flooding in roads and homes. Just east of Merced, the community of Planada also was flooded, after the waters breached the banks of Miles Creek.

Merced has been doing day-to-day operations to prepare the city, McBride said, in addition to some long-term efforts with federal, state and county entities to ensure Bear Creek can handle any excess rainwater.

Those day-to-day operations include street sweeping to prevent localized flooding, leaf cleanup throughout the city, storm drain cleanout and tree trimming to avoid trees falling during a storm.

Sandbags will be available for residents. The city is working on purchasing a portable pump to drain any affected areas if needed. Additionally, Merced Fire Department acquired a utility terrain vehicle to gain access to hard-to-reach areas, according to McBride.

Other agencies helping with cleanup

During the meeting, Serratto showed some recent photos of debris cleanup done under railroad bridges on 16th and 25th streets, which would help efforts to prevent flooding.

He did mention an accumulation of debris under the 16th Street bridge that would need to be addressed by the California Department of Transportation.

“I think that’s the last big thing,” Serratto said. “At that point, (with) Bear Creek, we’ll be in really good shape.”

The floods, McBride said, taught officials how to work with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “We have a network now where we’re constantly monitoring projected storm events,” he said. “We have the mechanism in place if it’s necessary.”

McBride said other state and county entities have also helped clear the creek to help mitigate any floods during the rainy season.

That includes Merced Irrigation District doing cleanup at Bear Creek and the railroad companies – like BNSF and Amtrak – doing similar work on railroad bridges.

“Merced County has also billed us for a flood water diversion project for Black Rascal Creek,” said McBride. “We hope that that will help lessen impacts down the line.”

Reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still pending from work the city did in January and March, said McBride.

Six million dollars from the Department of Water Resources, allocated to be received under the 2022 Budget Act, are also pending. McBride said the money will help the city “do study analysis design and prepare documents to do some work in the creek area.”

Rain received this year in Merced

Antoinette Serrato, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford, said Merced has received 17.08 inches of rain in 2023, more than double the 8.06 inches received in 2022.

Historically, the most rain Merced has received was in 1983, with 24.18 inches.

Serrato said rain could fall between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, which might add an inch to this year’s total.

Christian De Jesus Betancourt is the bilingual communities reporter for Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced.

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