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RIVER WATCH

San Joaquin reaches monitor stage southwest of Manteca

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RIVER WATCH

The San Joaquin River southwest of Manteca at the Airport Way Bridge.

Photo courtesy San Joaquin County Public Works/


POSTED January 27, 2017 12:50 a.m.

The San Joaquin River is rising.
It reached monitor stage Thursday at 11:04 a.m. prompting the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services to require reclamation districts maintaining levees along the river to watch for any signs of problems.
Officials emphasized that “this does not mean that flooding is likely to occur” as it is a precautionary step. They added it is normal to see seepage that will cause the pooling of water on the land side of the levees.
The monitor stage is when river water starts flowing into bypass areas. There are two other stages — the project flood stage when the river is at maximum capacity of the design flow that typically leaves three feet to the top of the levees. The danger stage is when flows exceed maximum design capacity. This generally a foot above the project flood stage.
The area south of Manteca known as River Junction where the Stanislaus River joins the San Joaquin River is one of the most vulnerable areas in San Joaquin County.
The agency responsible for the first response for a break on the San Joaquin in rural south Manteca as well as Lathrop is the Lathrop Manteca Fire District.
Late Monday afternoon there was a  reported levee breach in South Manteca that turned out to be a false alarm
But that doesn’t mean that first responders aren’t prepared to act if something like that were to happen – almost unthinkable six months ago when the end of the worst drought in California’s history seemed unlikely at best.
But with the snowpack in the Central Sierra at nearly double its average total – doubling earlier this month in less than a week thanks to a series of heavy cold storms that rolled across California – local emergency personnel are keeping a close eye on the amount of water being released from dams on the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne Rivers, all tributaries of the San Joaquin River, as well as the San Joaquin itself.
According to Lathrop Manteca Battalion Chief Larry Madoski, most levee issues so far have occurred in the northern section of San Joaquin County, but he said that does not mean that something can’t happen in the future that could adversely affect residents of Lathrop and Manteca.
“Right now we’re monitoring the situation closely and watching to see if there could be any changes that could put any of the levees that protect those areas at risk,” Madoski said. “We’re always planning for things if they do happen so that we’re able to adequately respond, even if those things aren’t likely to happen.”
And while flooding rocked the community in 1997 – spilling water onto Stewart Tract that is now River Islands. That led to the bulldozing of dirt to plug the underpasses on Interstate 5 and McKinley Avenue on the 120 Bypass to protect homeowners in the event more levees failed. First responders are not only working with neighboring agencies that may be affected to create a regional management format that would streamline resources, but actually leading the charge to champion an Incident Management Team that would be a first for the county.
Currently Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely is the official spokesperson for that effort – a collaboration that includes the City of Stockton, the County of San Joaquin, the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Department, the Stockton Police Department and several independent fire districts including Ripon and Woodbridge.
According to Madoski, the new format would allow local jurisdictions with the most knowledge of the areas they cover be the first responders in the event of an emergency while other agencies can step in and provide the routine service to the communities that are affected. That would allow for an all-out response by those with the institutional knowledge without sacrificing the routine calls that typically comprise the bulk of their workload.
And that institutional knowledge may extend further than just typical first responders. According to Madoski, Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore is also involved in the planning and could end up being an incident commander – of which Neely is already designated – if the situation called for it.
He called that sort of local involvement and management “paramount” to being able to address the issue appropriately and effectively to minimize of life and property without sacrificing the sort of streamlined collaborative approach that should be an essential service of government agencies.
“We’re going to do whatever we can in the event of an emergency to protect life and safety at a cost that is commensurate with values,” Madoski said. “With a city like Lathrop that has its unique challenges because of some of the components we have here, it’s good to see the Fire Chief be that spokesperson for the people here of Lathrop and for the group that has formed to make this idea that has been around for some time a reality.”
On Monday Lathrop Manteca Fire District crews responded to a call that a levee in South Manteca near Airport Court had broken – arriving on scene and not finding what was reported in the call. No break in the levee was discovered. 

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