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Will dry levee devastate nearby farms?
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A dry levee — as well as a proposed expressway — might bode well for future Manteca residents buying homes yet to be built that the two projects will protect and serve but  it may be the death knell for farming.
A parade of speakers — farmers and rural estate residents southwest of Manteca —made it clear to City Council members that plans to satisfy state mandates for 200-year flood protection and build a road to accommodate growth — could have disasters consequences if not done right.
The comments came prior to the council voting Tuesday to hire Drake Haglin and Associates for $92,002 to come up with alignments for both the envisioned Antone Raymus Expressway and dry levee.
Farmers said the dry levee could create higher water levels in the area literally feet below the surface that could kill roots of permanent crops such as almonds and make growing other crops unfeasible.  The high water table exists due to the proximity of the area to the San Joaquin River.
It could also create a situation where homes and farms south of wherever the levees is extended will suffer twice as much damage as they did in the 1997 floods if a 200-year flood event occurs.
There were also concerns voiced about the need to make sure the area can drain efficiently after a flood occurs.
Speakers as well as the council expressed hope that discussions involving the dry levee and expressway alignments won’t become adversarial.
And while speakers kept things even keel and focused Tuesday, it was clear that the state mandate for a dry levee along with the city’s desire to have another major east-west road to serve future growth could trigger the biggest debate about growth in Manteca since the 3.9 percent cap was adopted in 1985.
Among the speakers:
uJohnny Cardoza who wanted to make sure Walthall Slough would continue to serve as a nature drain.
Cardoza questioned why the effort to enhance flood protection for Manteca and Lathrop wasn’t targeting the San Joaquin River itself.
“It is so cluttered with brush and trees that there is no place for the water to go,” he said.
He also said dredging would give the river significantly more volume. Language for funding a study to determine whether dredging was feasible on the stretch of the San Joaquin River between the confluence with the Stanislaus River and Mossdale Crossing was part of a statewide water and flood protection bond passed by voters. That went to the wayside when the Legislature during Gov. Gray Davis’ administration commandeered $1 billion in bond receipts to cover shortfall funding for the Department of Water Resources during a budget crisis.
The dredging study language was included after then State Senator Mike Machado was told by area farmers there was antidotal evident the river bottom has risen seven feet since the 1950s due to silt run-off from the Westside.
Cardoza also said Paradise Cut on the southern edge of River Islands at Lathrop needed to be cleared so floodwaters could flow there to take pressure off the main channel.
uRaymond Quaresma reminded the council that the area they are talking about has some of the world’s most fertile soil.  He estimated between 15,000 cows and other farming operations based on production provide food to over 400,000 people.
The dairy farmer also expressed concern about making sure the land south of the levee drains after a flood.
uJohn Costa zeroed in on the fact the farther south the dry levee goes, the more farmland that will be paved over for more homes.
Part of the state-mandate for flood protection will not allow future urbanization in areas not protected against a 200-year event.
 As such, the expressway can only go north of the levee.
“Are we selling out to greed (at the cost of) true prosperity,” he asked of allowing more homes to be built in the area.
uMary Hildebrand, after noting “the state in its dubious wisdom” deemed 200-year flood protection was necessary, gave a quick overview of how the dry levee could trigger major issues with the high water table and create major problems for farming viability.
uBryce Perkins wanted to make sure that 200 plus acres that his partnership has almond trees on will remain viable after the levees and expressway are put in place
uMichael Fonseca whose family has farmed for nearly a century along Airport Way believes the city should zero in on existing road alignments for the expressway to minimize impacts. Fonseca also favored looking at a combination approach such as the 120 Bypass that doubles as an emergency levee by design as it nears the San Joaquin River.
He also expressed concern about construction contaminating potable wells as well as the cross levee drastically changing the high water table and “killing agriculture.”
uDee Wackerly said the extension of the dry levee will mean property south of it that flooded in 1997 will be hit even harder in a future flood.
She also pointed out that as far back as 1993 urban encroachment was being battled by south Manteca farmers. She produced a letter from then by Mike Gikas that prompted the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau to argue the area farmers’ position before Manteca’s elected leaders.
“It is our lives, our livelihood and our way of life involved here,” Wackerly said.
The consultant will conduct three public workshops on the alignment. That’s in addition to meeting one-on-one with impacted property owners.