Marty Harris is right.
The rural south Manteca landowner is correct in saying the City of Manteca is not being good neighbors,
And city officials are wrong to argue otherwise.
Harris’ beef centers around how the cities of Manteca and Lathrop responded to Senate Bill 5.
The State of California in its infinite wisdom decreed there shall be 200-year flood protection or else no urbanization or even new homes in rural areas could be built. The edict wasn’t made in a vacuum. There were environmental tar pits that lawmakers helped create by shirking away from their duties over the years to maintain state waterways. Essentially they have allowed the bureaucracy to decree that thou shall not dredge and bowed to environmental perfectionists groups as defined by those that want to elevate what they are protecting to the top of the water chain with absolutely no exceptions.
Manteca and Lathrop looked for an approach that would work for them, which was simply protecting their southern and western flanks.
To go farther south along the San Joaquin River to the confluence of the Stanislaus River and then eastward a ways up the Stanislaus would have put 200-year flood protection in place for the area south of Manteca. Given the $180 million price tag to upgrade Reclamation District 17 levees — by far the strongest on the east side of the river — to 200-year flood protection certification would have been off the charts in terms of cost.
That said, by not doing so insures no urbanization can take place ever south of wherever the City of Manteca ultimately decides to build the cross levee. It assures an agricultural greenbelt in perpetuity where the 200-year floodplain has inadequate protection.
The council is not incorrect in nothing their hands are being forced to a degree. While it is true the upgraded levees means urbanization can continue in all of Lathrop and the southwest portion of Manteca, it also means existing homes, schools, commercial endeavors and such including the municipal wastewater treatment plant will be afforded protection against a 200-year event.
There was never a debate about the likelihood of a 200-year event as defined by a flood that has a 1 in 200 chance of happening every year. While the frequency of 100-year events have increased to the point they could be called 20-year events that is not the case with 200-year events.
That said, the state short circuited such discussions with its knee jerk reaction to New Orleans and the Katrina catastrophe they incorrectly read as a parallel situation.
It would stand to reason judging by 1997 flood depths and the weakness of the half century old Army Crops levees south of Manteca and what triggers high water today on the San Joaquin River that the 200-year flood protection stipulation is more than just mere overkill.
Water just started flowing a few years ago year round on vast stretches of the San Joaquin River through Merced County south. Granted, it was normal before dams for nature to dry up stretches of the river in late summer or at least by early fall, that hasn’t been the case for more than 60 years after dams were built up and down the San Joaquin River watershed.
Before it was simply melting snowpack that determined river flows that are kept in check from spreading wide across the valley floor by levees. Now it is how the state and federal government dictate how water is released from dams.
If the San Joaquin River from the confluence of the Stanislaus River to Mossdale was dredged and Paradise City established as a true river bypass, not only would the odds of a 200-year flood plummet but it would also reduce the frequency of 100-year floods.
This is not conjecture. It was federal water decisions that led to a switching of water sources on the west side of the valley that was stopped after the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge ecological disaster that brought significant silt to the San Joaquin between Stanislaus and Vernalis. At the same time the Army Corps has made it clear in studies done decades ago that Paradise Cut will take significant pressure off the river during high flows.
River Islands at Lathrop — with the blessing of environmental groups — is committed to financing the Paradise Cut work and restoring habitat. They applied 14 years ago for a permit that was supposed to take months to process. The still have no decision from the federal burecarcy.
Now back to Marty Harris.
Models without a more robust cross levee shows properties south of Manteca but not all the way to the river levees with three to five feet of flood water. It is clear in a 200-year event if you have a levee that takes all of Lathrop as well as Manteca most west of the Airport Way out of danger that more water will back up south of the dry levee.
To say otherwise is to believe the water will magically vanish once it reaches the natural 200-year floodplain high water mark for property that is to the south of the cross levee as that levee starts backing it up and doing its job of keeping everything north dry.
So what can Manteca do to be a good neighbor? At the very least they can harness the lobbying firm they pay $92,000 a year and create a South County wide effort to press Congress and the White House to clear the way for Paradise Cut work to be done by the private sector and to authorize dredging on the San Joaquin River.
Not only will it reduce the chance of Manteca’s neighbors flooding but it also will make the $180 million protection that is being put in place all the more effective.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.