An earthen dam along Lewis Creek that had been at risk of failing was being shored up Wednesday by Madera County’s public works employees before what could be a second powerful storm this week.
Some residents of the 168-parcel Cedar Valley community own the small lake that was overflowing its banks near the Cedar Valley fire station on Tuesday. It’s estimated to be about an acre or slightly larger, with a depth of about 30 feet.
Rainfall amounts in the area were 5 to 6 inches Monday night into Tuesday.
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Emergency crews brought sandbags and pumps to the dam, about 6 miles north of Oakhurst, to redirect water from the dam and away from Lakeside Drive, a small county-maintained road that leads into the subdivision. The road is paved atop the dam. On the other side of the road bed, the ground drops off sharply to the land below, where at least one house can be seen that would be directly in the path of any dam collapse.
“The sandbags are to redirect flow to properly hit the spillway,” said Ahmad Alkhayyat, Madera County public works director. “The pumps are available to pump water to the other side of the road.”
With little rain Wednesday, conditions were improving.
“It’s better than yesterday, but we’re expecting more rain,” he said.
Rain filled the Cedar Valley Dam to the brim Tuesday, prompting a warning from county officials that it might fail, sending water, earth and debris downstream and toward Oakhurst.
On Tuesday, George Stillman, who said he has lived in the area 40 years, was the first to notice that water had risen to the top of the reservoir, and was spilling over the roadway and down to the low land below. He got on the horn and warned the county.
In his decades of living there, Stillman said he’s only seen water spill over the road once before, during the giant 1982-83 rain season.
Officials brought a pump to direct water back into a spillway, blocked the roadway and spent a tense night watching the water level.
On Wednesday, they faced new concerns about another storm front rolling in, and ordered dump trucks full of sand to block the low part of the roadway where water was spilling over.
But all of that sand needs a crew to fill the sandbags, tote the bags and lay them across the road.
A call went out for a fire crew of about 16 inmate workers from the Mount Bullion Conservation Camp near Mariposa, but their bus broke down en route. Sgt. Joseph Wilder of the Madera County Sheriff’s Office spent Wednesday speeding from one possible disaster in the county to another. He arrived to order alternate crews, who were expected to arrive ahead of the storm – everyone hoped.