The threat of a levee breach in Lathrop appears to be subsiding as the level of the San Joaquin River continues to decline.
But that doesn’t mean the fight for long-term protection and the overhauls necessary to prevent the same threat from repeating the next time an abnormally large amount of snow pounds the Sierra Nevada mountains is anywhere close to being over.
According to Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal, partnering with other communities who have been affected with the threat of floods this year and pushing for the funding necessary to dredge the San Joaquin River will be one of his priorities on the council moving forward – in addition to remaining committed to secure the funding required to upgrade the city’s existing levee system to be able to withstand a 200-year flood.
The two, Dhaliwal said, would virtually eliminate the threat of flooding that comes during exceptionally wet winters in what he calls a win-win situation for everybody involved.
“The thing about SB5 is that it benefits everybody – cities get to continue with development but it also gives an added layer of protection for people who already live here,” he said. “And dredging the river only enhances that. We need to get other cities together and make the case to our elected officials – we’ve been talking to Congressmen (Jeff) Denham and (Jerry) McNerney already – so that’s something else that we can rely on.”
While the threat of a flood has been more of a reality for residents south of the Highway 120 bypass for the last two weeks, Lathrop wasn’t immune from its own concerns despite benefitting from a natural bend in the San Joaquin that sends a large amount of water around Stockton and into the Delta. Seepage along the levees required some work by Reclamation District 17, and panicked residents flooded social media with messages after seeing equipment driving on the levees themselves.
But unlike South Manteca, which is protected by agricultural levees that are only rated to handle a 50-year flood, Lathrop’s levees are rated to hold back a 100-year flood and have received more attention than the agricultural levees in South Manteca because of the amount of development that has occurred in some instances right up to them.
In July the City of Lathrop received a permit from the State of California that will allow the city to continue to develop property within the 200-year flood plain – the entire city, it was discovered during recent mappings, is within the 200-year flood plain – as long as the work to secure the funding necessary to upgrade the levees continues as planned.
Dhaliwal said that the city remains committed to SB5, and believes that the current situation with the river, which could continue throughout the spring thanks to a record snowpack in the Sierra, could lead to a renewed focus from politicians who have the connections necessary to fund the endeavor.
Even with all of the work still left on the table, Dhaliwal said that he’s proud of how the city took a proactive role in preparing for the unthinkable and keeping residents informed of what was going on.
“We had people from the city that were working with RD-17 and Lathrop Police Services and the Lathrop Manteca Fire District, and the information was presented to us and we were able to relay that to the public so that they remained informed as to what was going on,” he said. “We’re not completely out of the woods yet but the forecasts look favorable so we’ll continue to remain cautiously optimistic.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.