The last time an El Nino pounded California some 80 square miles south of Lathrop between Manteca and Tracy ended up under water.
Much of Weston Ranch and many in Lathrop were preparing to evacuate in the event levee breaks continued to take place. The McKinley Avenue underpass on the 120 Bypass had been plugged with a pile of dirt and crews were ready to do the same at Louise Avenue and Lathrop Road on Interstate 5.
Lathrop is ready for nature’s wrath this time around.
On Monday Cecelia Nichols-Fritzler, Lathrop’s Administrative Services Director, gave a presentation to the Lathrop City Council outlining how the city is preparing for the wet winter ahead that has already showed glimpses of the storms that Northern California reservoirs so desperately need.
Even though the chances for a repeat of the last time that the San Joaquin River broke through levees and flooded farmland in rural Tracy, Manteca and Lathrop are extremely low given the capacity of most Sierra reservoir, Nichols-Fritzler and Lathrop Manteca Fire District Chief Gene Neely outlined all of the ways that the city will be ready for the worst case scenario.
They even had a few tips for residents to prepare for the much-needed rain.
Currently, according to the PowerPoint prepared for the presentation, Lathrop municipal workers are checking to make sure that surface drainage pipes are cleared and that grates are not clogged and covered to keep surface street flooding to a minimum during periods of prolonged rain. Signs are being installed in flood-prone areas to alert residents, and sandbags are being kept at Lathrop’s corporation yard on Louise Avenue to distribute to residents who may need them.
According to the tip sheet, residents should make sure to fix leaks and clean out gutters and downspouts – making sure to also pay attention to the exterior wood trim that can carry water into the wood if not properly sealed and promote dry rot and termite infestation when the deluge subsides.
Storing heavy plastic sheeting is also advised, and having a back-up generator on hand, Nichols-Fritzler said, is never a bad idea in case of downed power lines or the inability of the electrical company to restore the grid for a prolonged amount of time.
Vehicles should be checked to make sure that lights, batteries and braking systems are operational, and residents are urged not to drive through flooded areas – not knowing how deep the water is or what is below it can create problems for motorists, and water splashing underneath the hood can cause a vehicle to stall.
Keeping an emergency supply for extended storms that includes bottled water, non-perishable foods, flashlights and extra batteries, candles and matches, toilet paper, cash and a fully-charged cell phone are also advised.
And according to Neely, in the event of an emergency – which would be declared by the City of Lathrop and then taken over by emergency crews that prepare for such scenarios – a battery-operated transistor radio would likely be the way that emergency services personnel would communicate information to residents about the status of the event and what they should do to stay safe.
City Manager Steve Salvatore said that while levee breaches flooded areas in 1997, Lathrop’s levees are certified to withstand a 100-year storm and a repeat of that is highly unlikely given the fact that flows out of dams can be controlled since there is so much space for accumulated snowpack and rainwater to collect. The city, he said, will continually monitor the flows down the San Joaquin River and alter contingency plans according to need.
The majority of Lathrop’s new development is flourishing in area that was cut-off from the main portion of the community when floodwaters threatened all of the land west of Interstate 5 in 1997. Crews bulldozed dirt beneath the overpasses to keep any floodwaters from reaching densely populated areas as a precaution, but the water never made it that far.
The arrival of a wet El Nino year coincides with the State of California’s current mandate to bolster all levees within a massive 200-year flood plain – a boundary that includes all of the land within Lathrop’s City Limits – and efforts are underway to secure the funding to overhaul the miles of aging levees that protect the community against the worst-case scenario.
The largest section of the community that flooded in 1997 – the area that is now the River Islands development – already has reinforced levees that were necessary to get the blessing of government planners when building within the plain.
Lathrop’s plans for emergency management if a flood were to hit the community, along with a map of the residential areas and the ways in which they would be evacuated, will soon be posted on Lathrop’s website.