A local emergency has been declared by Fresno County officials because of a weakened levee operated by Tranquillity Irrigation District and the continued high flows into local waterways from reservoir releases.
The declaration, signed by County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau, allows the county to seek state support for its bills if repairs are significant. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors is expected to ratify the declaration when it meets Tuesday.
For now, the potential breach of the levee is the greatest concern because of the potential for flooding in the nearby town of Tranquillity and cities of Mendota and Firebaugh.
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County officials are concerned that high flows caused by above-average rainfall are stressing the levee system that protects residents and property.
The flooding proclamation says that “local resources are inadequate to cope with effects of (the) emergency, and the combined forces of other political subdivisions of the state are required to assist the county to combat the effects of (the) emergency.”
I am going to ask the county administrative officer why we need to continue to have the drought declaration.
Buddy Mendes, Fresno County supervisor
County employees, along with staff from the Tranquillity district, are working to repair the levee and prepare for evacuations from the nearby communities, if necessary.
Rousseau said some flooding is occurring in Firebaugh and Mendota, and the county is working to aid both cities.
All the problem areas are in Supervisor Brian Pacheco’s district. He spent Tuesday meeting with officials and residents in Mendota, Firebaugh, San Joaquin and Tranquillity.
The immediate concern in Mendota is at the city’s wastewater treatment facility, which processes 1.28 million gallons per day. If the levee breaches, he said, city officials are worried that the treatment plant will be underwater and that supplies from the plant will mix with river and canal water.
For now, there is no potential flooding and the water levels have gone down since yesterday.
Ben Gallegos, acting city manager for Firebaugh
In Firebaugh, Pacheco met with city and state water officials. Water is overflowing from the San Joaquin River into the city’s park at the entrance to town, which is not unusual for the heaviest rain years.
The state Department of Water Resources is monitoring Firebaugh’s water situation, said Ben Gallegos, acting city manager and public works director.
“For now, there is no potential flooding and the water levels have gone down since yesterday,” he said.
The levee is located northwest of Tranquillity. The situation at the Fresno Slough, where the San Joaquin and Kings rivers meet, is not as serious as it was Friday and over the weekend, when evacuation advisories were in effect for about 80 homes in the area.
To reduce danger, releases are being slowed from Friant and Pine Flat dams.
“Fortunately the storms weren’t as big as projected this week, and they are able to slow releases from the dams,” Pacheco said.
Drought still on
Even as the county seeks help for flooding, it continues to have a drought declaration in effect.
“I am going to ask the county administrative officer why we need to continue to have the drought declaration,” said Supervisor Buddy Mendes.
He said the drought declaration may be a procedural necessity to continue receiving money and assistance stemming from drought damages. A tree mortality declaration will remain in place because millions of trees in the Sierra are continuing to die due to the drought and bark beetle infestation.
Rousseau said the drought declaration involves about 50 homes where wells were no longer working.
“We will need to look at that (drought declaration) again in the next month and probably pull that back,” he said. “Those wells are still probably dry, and we will work with the state to eventually find a more permanent solution.”