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Manteca’s park/retention basins doing their job while French drains grow in use
cotta lake
Photo by Wayne Thallander Runoff from a storm was sent by the city’s system to a retention basin at Cotta Park off Mission Ridge Drive created a picture perfect scene captured by Wayne Thallander.

The rain of the past few days isn’t enough yet for Manteca and the rest of San Joaquin County to shake being in a severe drought.

But if steady rains return during the traditional “rainy” season in Manteca from now through the end of March or torrential cloudbursts occur, Manteca will be ready.

That wasn’t always the case. Up until 35 years ago steady ago steady rains would create havoc in many parts of the city flooding streets, yards and even lapping at the doors of businesses due  to the city’s flat terrain.

A decision a previous City Council made decades ago to require neighborhood parks put in place by new home developers to include storm retention basins as well started reducing the flooding.  While commonplace now throughout the San Joaquin Valley, it was a novel concept in the 1980s.

The city’s decision to incorporate the storm retention basins as part of a park’s design by planting grass and using it as low key playing fields featuring a backstop was also different than other stores that opted to create storm retention basins using barren soil fenced off behind cyclone fencing. Manteca has two such storm retention basins— one on North Main Street North of Kia Country and the other along Atherton Drive east of the strawberry patch at South Main Street.

In the late 1980s the city made storm system improvements to the central part of the city where development had started 90 years earlier to make the drainage more muscular. That helped cut back on flooding being a perennial issue for many parts of central Manteca.

Since then incremental improvements have been made to further reduce flooding. Those measures included installing additional storm drain lines, requiring French drains when possible at new projects to allow water ruining off impermeable surfaces such as roofs and driveways to percolate into the ground onsite, and operational changes to the existing system.

The most recent use of French drains augmented by large sections of pipe buried underground to “store” floodwater to allow it to seep into the soil in due time so new development does overwhelm existing storm drains was at the Chick-fil-A restaurant where they were placed under the parking lot along Yosemite Avenue.

The city still has issues not of which the least is setting aside funds to replace pumps when they wear out and replace line segments when they approach the end of their useful life.

For now, the city activates a game plan when the forecast calls for steady or significant rain.

City crews in the days before storms hit clean leaves from clogged drains to reduce the odds of neighborhood street flooding.

And when the storm starts, the city’s system takes over.

How Manteca’s

system works

How the city’s storm system works is part high-tech and part low-tech.

It starts as a light rain.

And then before you know it, the skies open up.

Rainwater runs off your roof, your driveway, your patio and other impervious surfaces.

It trickles into the gutter in a steady stream joining the run-off from nearby homes as well as the streets and sidewalks.

A running stream of water punctuated with a steady downpour flows into the storm drain and disappears beneath the streets of Manteca.

It’s below the surface in storm drains ranging from 12 inches to 48 inches or more that your rain run-off joins that from hundreds of other homes and commercial ventures.

But the trip ultimately to the San Joaquin River and into the San Francisco Bay is interrupted.

The city’s storm system is becoming overloaded. Pumps kick on and the water is taken out of the system into a nearby park that has been designed to provide double duty as a storm retention basin. It is here the water will pool with other run-off waiting for the system to clear up room so it can continue its journey.

The goal is to take pressure off trouble spots to avoid street flooding and backing water up on to private property by controlling flow with a telemetry system that has been programmed to respond automatically when workers detect problems in the city as the torrential cloud burst continues.

The water level in the storm retention basin rises providing an effective safety valve against flooding. Then capacity is freed up in the system and a second pump starts removing the water from the basin and putting it back into underground drains that make their way to the west near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It is here that the water comes gushing out through large screens covering culverts and into a San Joaquin Irrigation District drain.

The water will then make its way north to the French Camp Slough about eight miles away before turning west and heading past the northern levees on the northern edge of Weston Ranch in Stockton and into the San Joaquin River to continue its journey to the Bay Area and ultimately into the San Francisco Bay and beyond.

There are more than 3,000 storm drains citywide. All of the storm drains are cleaned before and after storms to prepare for the next rain. Even so it is a big help when citizens keep leaves and other debris away and off grates to the storm system.


System wouldn’t work

without SSJID canals


The system wouldn’t work without access to SSJID canals and drains that are between Manteca and the river. The city works closely with the district and shares in the cost to improvements along the drain that heads to French Camp Slough where all of the city’s storm drain water that enters pipes currently goes.

The city is dealing with a fact it can’t escape — any improvement to land increases the water run-off.

An acre of farmland that used to grow crops typical has a one-tenth of a rating for run-off.

It increases when you put grass on it, build homes, or put in streets.

It is the same reason why California’s rivers are flooding more often. There is more run-off because more land is being made impervious to percolation during heavy storms.

The city doesn’t have a separate storm system crew but instead relies primarily on sewer system workers. Whenever they work on storm system matters, their time is billed internally to that account since state law requires enterprise fund accounts that serve specific users such as those who access sanitary services can’t legally pay for service other than what the fee is collected to pay for.


Additional improvements

and deferred maintenance



Engineers have noted that it would be cost prohibitive to design and construct a system that would eliminate absolutely all prospects of flooding in the older parts of Manteca. But many of the ways to improve operation of the existing system that has been upgraded several times since the early 1990s in the central district is to make it easier for storm run-off to flow unobstructed into underground pipes.

Improvements in the past decade have substantially reduced flooding potential at historical trouble spots such as Moffat and Main, Center and Main and along other streets between Main Street and Powers Avenue. There can still flood simply because the water can’t get into the system.

The surge basin on Moffat Boulevard allows for water to be taken out of the system and stored creating more capacity for run-off. Stored water would then be released back into the system once capacity is freed up.


Manteca has unfunded

storm system needs

The City Council in 2001 dropped a $2.35 a month utility tax that was raising $690,000 a year to go toward storm system improvements and maintenance. The tax was repealed after the legality of the utility users’ tax was questioned. It was adopted on Nov. 20, 1989 as a way to fund storm drainage system improvements and maintenance to alleviate street flooding, particularly in the downtown district.

The issue of funding storm drain improvements has not been addressed in the last 19 years meaning that the storm maintenance and upgrade of the existing system is a drain on the general fund budget.

Manteca five years ago finished paying off a loan back in 1989 to make central city storm system improvements that eliminated an annual debt repayment of $223,000 a year. Ongoing maintenance since 2010 takes a $300,000 to $500,000 annual bite out of the general fund depending upon the needs. The utility tax – which would have brought in over $1 million this year if it were still in place – would have covered that tab plus have money to go toward upgrades and replacement of aging infrastructure that public works staff over the year has recommended needs to be done but hasn’t been funded.  

To address cost issues that the city had back in 2009, Manteca changed its policy of having water discharged from various park storm retention basins within 48 hours. That requires much larger pipes that add to the cost. The newer strategy called for a water discharge rate of 96 hours from storm retention basins instead of 48 hours. That represents the longest accepted maximum time that water would sit in a retention basin before it is released into a series of underground pipes and eventually into the San Joaquin River.

Currently, it is rare for water to stand in any retention basin more than 24 hours. The two basins that have will see water remaining for the longest period of time are Cotta Park on Mission Ridge Drive behind Walmart and the Spreckels Park basin where the BMX course is located.

In order to meet any potential future increase in the 100-year flood protection standards, the city may have to alter future retention basins to either make them deeper or larger.

The problem, however, is how to fund improvements since those serving established neighborhoods can’t legally be charged off to growth.


Federal storm

runoff requirements


Newer federal storm run-off standards that addressed water quality issues regarding urban storm water that reaches rivers as well as to reduce runoff into swollen rivers required cities such as Manteca to adopt new development standards. Roughly 85 percent of all storm water must be retained on site within a developed parcel whether it is a commercial enterprise or a part of a residential subdivision.

The need to comply with the federal National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit administered by the Environmental Protection Agency zeros in on projects creating additional impervious surfaces — roof tops, streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and such — to reduce run-off from not just storms but landscape irrigation as well.

One likely scenario for parking lots is the elimination of continuous curbing between asphalt and landscaped areas. An example is what the city put in place on the southeast corner of Woodward Park for the parking lot near the storm retention basin. There are notches in curbing along travel lanes while raised concrete curbing has been placed with “wheel stops” to allow storm water to flow into landscape areas where it ultimately will in filtrate in to the ground.

One solution has been the more prevalent is the use of vegetated swales or small “valleys” to capture runoff from streets and large areas such as parking lots. And while many swales that exist prior to the new rules that went into effect in 2015 are planted in grass that is less likely to happen now for several reasons. They include the permit requirements frown heavily on using pesticides and any chemicals in storm run-off areas to recue pollution. The guidelines also want water use conserved at times there isn’t storm run-off.

It means such swales would most likely have trees and native shrubs surrounded by river rock..

Other measures that have been identified to help reduce runoff as well as avoiding pollution from getting into the storm retention system and ultimately into the San Joaquin River and Pacific Ocean include:

*using porous pavement such as those that allow small squares of grass to grow between pavers for driveways and patios.

*tree planting and preservation.

*putting roofs over large waste bin enclosures, outdoor material storage areas, as well as fueling facilities.

The city also has started requiring more French drains employing river rock. Examples can be found along Moffat Boulevard at the Moffat Community Center (the Manteca Veterans Hall) and the Manteca Veterinary Clinic at Powers Avenue.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email