After a long, cold and wet winter, most people would be thrilled at the first warm spell that rolls across the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
Especially people like farmers that rely on the warm weather and plentiful sunshine to make their living.
But with a record snowpack in the mountains above reservoirs that have already filled up once this year, farmers like Tony Coit are waiting with bated breath to see what happens when the runoff surge finally comes after the second or third day of 90-plus degree heat.
“I’ve been telling people for a while now that the worst is far from over because we have all of that snow up there,” Coit said. “I think the river is going to get back up to as high as it was before at least, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen when we get all of that high water again.”
Coit was one of the handful of farmers who responded to a levee breach in South Manteca where landowners were able to cave in the levee to prevent it from failing completely – saving as many as 500 homes in the process as the San Joaquin River pulsed at its highest level in almost a decade.
And since then he has watched the level of the San Joaquin River drop below flood stage, but not nearly enough to calm the fears of property owners who live near levees that still have water right up against them – saturating the earthen banks and creating seepage issues for adjacent fields.
Whether all of that water will affect the levee’s integrity, Coit says, if the river were rise up along the levees again remains to be seen.
“The Army Corps of Engineers were out here and they did a lot of work but it’s kind of like putting lipstick on a pig,” he said. “They did a lot of good things, but there are just so many problem spots and those are the things that are making us nervous.”
According to Lathrop-Manteca Fire District Battalion Chief Larry Madoski, the department – whose coverage area includes the river through South Manteca all the way past Mossdale and up to French Camp – is monitoring the fluctuations in the river and the expected outflows and how those could impact local home and property owners.
The bigger immediate issue, Madoski said, will be the surge in the number of people who are using the river and the implications that will have given the changes that have taken place over the last few months – with large amounts of fast-moving water that’s colder than it has been in years.
The volume of water, he said, has the potential to shift things that sit at the bottom of the river – massive trees, sunken boats and even abandoned vehicles – that get covered with silt and sand and serve as obstacles. When those move, he said, it can alter the flow of the river on the surface. And that’s not taking into account the changes in flow coming from trees that aren’t typically underwater, and how the speed of the water can impact areas that typically are safe for swimming and wading.
“It’s critical that people wear life jackets – that the most important thing,” Madoski said. “And in the event that somebody sees a swimmer in trouble, it’s important to take note of reference points and where exactly they were when they began to have trouble – whether they were a quarter of the way into the river, or halfway, and whether they were near a landmark of some kind.
“That information proves to be invaluable when we begin our search, and we want to be as effective as possible.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.