For a short while on Wednesday Airport Way was closed to traffic in both directions at Division Road as crews moved equipment from one trouble spot another.
California Conservation Corps crews were sandbagging a boil in the River Junction District near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers where the levee broke in 1997. Later in the afternoon another CCC crew was doing the same thing on a levee at the end of Perrin Road when a boil was discovered to be moving material through the levee. Boils — essentially water seeping under levees from the river and bubbling up on the land side — if left unchecked typically develop into breaches and then breaks that undermine the integrity of levees.
While the road closure was temporary, it was a welcome sight for residents in the area that have grown tired of the amount of traffic that has flooded to the area to see the swollen San Joaquin River – clogging up traffic and making it difficult to move equipment as the race to hold back high water continues.
As a result, first responders are now asking people who don’t live in the area not to come out to the river at all out of fear that they’ll interrupt an emergency response or impede workers from the California Conservation Corps or the local reclamation districts from doing their job protecting hundreds of homes from catastrophic floods.
“These are people that are working very hard to make sure that we don’t flood and they don’t need people out there getting in their way and making things more difficult for them than they already are,” said Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief Gene Neely – who is working as an incident commander for the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services in South Manteca. “People that are going out there to take pictures or to look at the water are putting themselves in danger, and they’re potentially putting a lot of other people in danger as well and that’s not something that we need going on right now.”
And in some respects, it goes it even further than the “lookie loos” that have been clogging both sides of Airport Way at the bridge that crosses the swollen river.
According to Neely, first responders had to pull out a truck in Lathrop that went up and over a levee on Wednesday so that they could off-road in the mud. The San Joaquin Office of Emergency Services had to issue a notice to media outlets not to drive their vans or their vehicles on the levees while covering the story – narrow passages that are being traversed by tractor-trailers, heavy equipment and levee patrols making sure that what happened in 1997 doesn’t repeat again this year.
While an evacuation order is still in place for properties west of Airport Way all the way to the river – including the Islander Mobile Home Park behind Oakwood Lake, Turtle Beach Resort and the Wetherbee Lake neighborhood – Airport Way remains open to traffic.
Access to the San Joaquin River is restricted at both Perrin and McMullin Roads as well as Airport Court. Anybody living within the evacuation area requires a special green pass that can be obtained by visiting the Lathrop Manteca Fire District Station on Union Road with proof of residency.
But even though the widespread evacuation order that was issued Monday night after a levee breach was detected at end of McMullin Road has been lifted, the threat of another breach will remain high for at least the next week.
According to the National Weather Service’s California Nevada River Forecasting Center, the San Joaquin River at Vernalis is expected to close in on 31 feet – more than 1.5 feet above the danger stage – by this afternoon. With the water still being released from the spillway at Don Pedro Reservoir, the San Joaquin River is expected to maintain that level through at least Monday.
And already there are signs of danger.
With torrential rains pounding Northern California since the beginning of the year, overly saturated ground has led to river seepage in some areas that has turned low-lying fields into small lakes – a phenomenon that is expected to intensify as the level of the river continues to rise over the next 24 hours.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.