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Levee fix: $150 million
Work required to continue building in 200-year floodplain
levee LT
Motorcyclists atop the San Joaquin River levee protecting Lathrop from flooding. - photo by HIME ROMERO

It is going to cost nearly $150 million for levee upgrades to protect Manteca, Lathrop, Weston Ranch, and parts of rural south Manteca from a 200-year flood.

The need to spend the money to guard against a flooding event that has never occurred in modern times and has a half of one percent chance of happening in any given year started with a federal executive order from the 1970s that frowned upon the idea of promoting any sort of growth within floodplains.

Now, with the first compliance date approaching for California Senate Bill 5 passed in 2007 that was authored by retired State Senator Mike Machado, D-Linden, cities such as Lathrop and Manteca that have parts or all of their cities within a 200-year floodplain must demonstrate by July 1, 2016 that they are making progress at improving levees and how they will pay for it. If not, the state will halt all new construction in the identified 200-year floodplain.

When you look at a map of the 200-year floodplain, you might as well be looking at a map of the City of Lathrop as nearly all of the city falls within the designated boundaries. Even those being protected by some of the strongest reinforced levees ever built in California on River Islands at Lathrop will be lumped into the same category until the preliminary engineering work is completed. 

In Manteca, the impacted areas are generally south of the 120 Bypass and a point starting a half mile west of Union Road plus an area on the Airport Way corridor including land in and around Big League Dreams. All of Weston Ranch is in the 200-year floodplain.

It’s not that Lathrop and Manteca won’t be able to keep building. It’s just that they’re going to have to invest time – and a whole lot of money – if they want to keep building at a pace that just recently started to pick back up again. 

In a presentation to the Lathrop City Council, Lathrop City Engineer Glen Gebhardt laid out how the project is realistically a regional undertaking that currently has the backing of the City of Manteca and Reclamation District 17 – eventually requiring both the City of Stockton and the County of San Joaquin to sign-on before a levee plan can be certified by the state.

With a price tag of nearly $150 million – including the engineering work needed to identify the repairs and stress points and the cost of the crews that would actually have to come fix and inspect the 17 miles of levees that run through the community – a multi-jurisdictional effort is the only way to keep development schedules, which have just started picking up in other parts of the county as well, on track. 

While many of these sorts of things are typically handled at the staff level, Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore said that he was actively encouraging the council to get involved with the process because it marks a “very big deal” for the future of the community, and even noted that the city would be sitting down with Congressman Jerry McNerney’s office to see about future options. 

A big part of the collaborative effort amongst the municipalities and government entities involved will be securing the funding to complete the restoration work. Developers have already contributed a portion of the money needed to get the ball rolling on the initial study, and Gebhardt said they would likely be part of a wider network of people whose interests are directly tied with the implementation of Senate Bill 5. 

“It’s nice to hear the information from us, but sometimes it’s a lot more beneficial to sit at the table and hear it from the engineers,” Salvatore said about the two council member team that will take a more proactive role in the future steps. “There is a lot of detail to it.”

Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal will be the initial representative and will be joined periodically by alternate Steve Dresser.