Woodlake prepares for future flood impacts

Joshua Diaz, Woodlake Resident(Rigo Moran)

City of Woodlake works on long-term solutions for potential flood impacts after months of recovering from flood damage caused by winter storms

WOODLAKE – Given this year’s flooding from increased rain, the city is focusing their time on protecting Woodlake residents from any potential flooding that could arise in the future.

Woodlake City Council met on June 26 to discuss their ongoing efforts to deal with the recent flooding that resulted from winter storms along with snowmelt. Community member Joshua Diaz shared his concerns at the meeting, where he said the city is not doing enough to prevent future flooding and damage to Woodlake residential areas in the future.

“I have a lot to lose because I am rebuilding my home. I want to make sure it’s a good investment,” Diaz said to council. “Who in the world would put thousands of dollars (into repairing flood damage) if it’s just going to be put to waste with another flood?”

After months of recovering from flood damage, city council has explained their current plan to prevent further flood damages in the city as well as how to help residents with the residual effects of the floods. The council has offered help with cleaning up flood-related debris to residents in Woodlake and chose to extend that service another month.

Woodlake city manager Ramon Lara also encouraged residents to contact FEMA (federal emergency management agency) for resources if they need help recovering from the recent flooding. He also highlighted the importance of flood insurance for citizens who are in a flood zone.

The excess rain and snowmelt runoff have continued to jeopardize local rivers, creeks, ditches, lakes, channels and city infrastructure. According to Lara, the city may have found an effective way to prevent any potential flooding in the future.

“The county put together a plan in 1972 to mitigate (flooding), and it calls for a stormwater basin north of town,” Lara said. “Unfortunately, that’s never been done, so the city has re-engaged the county regarding that project.”

According to Lara, the plan was put together by the county following a major flood that took place in 1969; however, no action was taken to implement the plan until now. This raised concern amongst Woodlake residents at previous council meetings in March, where many community members expressed their frustrations towards the city’s disregard of the infrastructure study in previous years.

At the city council meeting on March 27, Diaz stated his fears of the city having a potential “levee war” on their hands; meaning that whatever home is higher will be safe, meanwhile the older, lower homes will be subject to flooding instead. He also brought documents that stated civil engineers from 1971 had predicted that a flood would occur 50 years down the line in their Tulare County flood management plan. Diaz questioned whether the city took heed to their warning.

Also from previous meetings, community members shared that many of them were under the impression that they were not in flood zones due to outdated flood zoning. Community member Preston Cooper said at the March meeting that Woodlake “has been ruined by poor city planning, short-sighted developers and a historic flood.”

“These (incidents) have taken away my peace and my home,” Cooper said at the past meeting. “I don’t care about accountability for the past. I care about accountability for the future.”

Now, council is looking toward the future with one option in mind to mitigate any future flooding, according to Lara, which is with the city’s plan to develop a stormwater basin in Antelope Valley. This is a type of detention pond that temporarily stores stormwater runoff. According to Lara, the project is estimated to cost eight to 12 million dollars and will be completely grant-funded over a period of years.

“That’s why we’re trying to work with the county, because we do think there’s a solution,” Lara said. “It’s not an easy one, it’s a multi-million dollar project that goes through a long planning, environmental and design process; but I think we’re committed to making sure that it does happen.”

To address the overall issue, council has had monthly meetings with Tulare County Resource Grants Agency staff and consistent contact with FEMA to make as much of an impact as possible, according to Lara. He said these meetings will continue until the change that is needed is complete.

The city is also continuing to prepare for increased snowmelt runoff by coordinating with neighboring stakeholders such as Tulare County, Caltrans, irrigation districts, as well as Congressman Costa and Senator Hurtado’s offices. They also increased the cleaning of creeks and ditches as well as maintenance and repair of all equipment such as storm pumps and lift stations.

Thus far, the city has spent over $300,000 – some of which will be reimbursed by FEMA – on recovery and cleanup from the flooding.

The other major change the council discussed at the meeting is the repair and replacement of storm pumps in the area. The storm pumps do currently have available backups, but will need fixing to ensure they can mitigate flooding in the near future.

“I find it insulting that anybody would even think that the city of Woodlake isn’t doing enough for its residents,” Mayor Rudy Mendoza said. “We have been working and will continue to work very hard.”

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