Atascadero adds to list of potential disasters that pose threat to city

Drought and windstorms join 6 other catastrophes in Atascadero's updated citywide hazard plan

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comApril 29, 2014 


    The public has until May 9 to submit feedback on the updated hazard plan before the City Council is tasked with adopting it and sending it to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That hearing could take place in late May or early June. A draft of the study, titled the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, is available to read at the bottom of this story, at, or City Hall, 6500 Palma Ave. For more information or to submit comments, email or send a letter to the consultant at P.O. Box 2424, Nipomo, CA 93444.

Earthquakes, wildfires and drought are among eight potential catastrophes that pose the greatest threat to Atascadero, according to an updated citywide hazard plan now in public review.

The roughly $6,000 study has been in the works for about a year, officials said, and contains new information from a 2005 version detailing how Atascadero’s natural landscape, history and location all play a part in what could hurt the city.

No one disaster took priority over the rest.

“(Atascadero is) no different than anybody else. You can’t put red, yellow or green to (its hazards),” study consultant Dave Mathe said. “Disasters do happen. But the good thing is Atascadero recognizes that.”

Having such a plan helps the city become eligible for financial assistance.

But city leaders have yet to test that since the last major federally declared disaster to hit Atascadero was the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. The 6.6-magnitude temblor caused widespread damage — including two deaths in Paso Robles — when it struck parts of San Luis Obispo County on Dec. 22, 2003. In Atascadero, the quake left the city’s historic City Administration Building structurally unsound, prompting the city to shut the facility’s doors and spend millions of dollars to fix it before its reopening last year.

“Luckily there have been no local disasters since 2005 (when the plan was created), so there are no examples of funding,” city community development director Warren Frace said.

The city is close to eight active seismic faults listed in the report — including the massive, 746-mile San Andreas.

Overall, eight hazards pose the greatest threat to Atascadero: dam failures (at Santa Margarita Lake and Atascadero Lake), earthquakes, expansive soils, floods, windstorms, landslides, wildland fires and drought.

Not on the list? Avalanches, tornadoes and volcanoes.

Drought and windstorms — absent from the previous report — were added this year.

“In 2005, we didn’t have drought problems to the extent we have today,” Mathe said.

Last year was the driest in 100 years of rainfall records from the city’s water utility, according to the report. Atascadero received approximately 20 percent of its normal amount of rain.

Aside from consequences for local agriculture and residents, a lack of rain also means parched soil can make the city susceptible to floods when precipitation returns, the report says.

“Rain will run off instead of soaking in, and that could lead to more damage and flooding,” Mathe said.

Atascadero’s rural landscape also makes it susceptible to wildfire. In 1994, a 49,000-acre fire burned forestland from the western portion of Atascadero to Morro Bay, while 106,000 acres burned two years later in the Machesna Mountain Wilderness area southeast of the city, according to the report.

Drought conditions exacerbate the risk of wildfires by extending the dry season and leaving vegetation more prone to burn.

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