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Dry levee is southwest Manteca’s last defense

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Dry levee is  southwest  Manteca’s last defense

This dry levee or cross levee that is critical to protecting southwest Manteca from flood waters is targeted to be enhanced by the developers of proposed 1,417 home Trails of Manteca.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED July 26, 2009 2:58 a.m.
It was a surreal scene.

The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky during the first  week of January 1997 as over four dozen California Conservation Corps workers were feverishly  laying down plastic weighted by sand bags on the dry cross-levee paralleling Woodward Avenue as water inched up ever so higher on the south side.

A half mile away, Caltrans crews were “plugging” the McKinley Avenue underpass of the Highway 120 Bypass with a wall of 10 feet of dirt to create an emergency back-up levee.

In the middle of it all, California State Sen. Dianne Feinstein wearing business attire and heels gingerly walked the levee on an inspection tour with state leaders to see firsthand the impact warm rains and temperatures that hastened a rapid late December snow melt in the Sierra was having on valley levees.

Twelve years have passed since the 11th major levee break since 1927 on the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers threatened rural Manteca, part of the city as well as Lathrop. The 1997 break flooded 60 square miles between Manteca and Tracy and left parts of Wetherbee Lake homes under water for months. Voters approved over $1 billion for flood protection work in the area – Proposition 13 in 2000 – but all of the money was “borrowed” to help the state bail proverbial water three deficits ago.

Save for emergency repairs made by the Army Corps of Engineers immediately after the flood and a potential breach two springs ago that simply restored the levees to their pre-flood conditions, nothing has been put in place to enhance levee durability on the Manteca side of the San Joaquin River. Work has started, though, on upgrades being paid for by special property tax assessments along the San Joaquin designed to protect southwest Manteca, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch.

Nothing, though, is being done on the Stanislaus River. If a levee fails there it can trigger a domino effect on dry levees between that river and Manteca.

The Trails of Manteca – a 1,471-lot neighborhood planned on 471 acres near Wetherbee Lake and south of Woodward Avenue – will make improvements to the dry levee that made state emergency officials nervous back in 1997.

Strengthening by widening and possibly raising the dry levee is expected to be a condition of any approval needed to move the large residnetial project forward. Such work is not subject to the same intense state and federal scrutiny as river levees and can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time.

The developer is already meeting with Reclamation District 17 officials that have jurisdiction over the levee and the city to determine what needs to be done.

Improving the levees will improve the safety of homes that have been built along Airport Way south of the Highway 120 Bypass since the 1997 flood as well as homes near Sierra High. State leaders did a model in 1997 that indicated if the cross levee failed at the high water mark several inches of water would have been flowing through a number of Manteca homes in the area.

Three separate projects that rely on the dry levee for added protection that are being advanced that will add 2,439 housing units between McKinley Avenue south of the Highway 120 Bypass and a slough that drains into the San Joaquin River.

•The Trails of Manteca, with 1,471 lots on 477 acres, south of Woodward Avenue, north of the Reclamation District 17 dry cross-levee and east of Wetherbee Lake. The project is in the review process. The land is already in the Manteca city limits.

•Machado Estates with 575 lots is located on the southwest corner of Airport Way and Woodward Avenue. The environmental impact report has been certified. The land hasn’t been annexed yet nor has a specific development plan been submitted for final processing.

•Terra Ranch near McKinley Avenue and the Highway 120 Bypass. It features 193 lots that will be developed by Anderson Homes and a 200-unit apartment complex being pursued by AKF Development.
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