Oceano is finally close to fixing this flooding problem. Unless the government shuts down

Stranded vehicle pulled out of flooded Oceano intersection

CHP SLO responded to a stranded vehicle at the intersection of Highway 1 and 13th Street in Oceano. The white sedan was towed out of the flooded area Friday, February 17, 2017.
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CHP SLO responded to a stranded vehicle at the intersection of Highway 1 and 13th Street in Oceano. The white sedan was towed out of the flooded area Friday, February 17, 2017.

It happens almost every time it rains in Oceano: Stormwater with nowhere else to go floods Highway 1 at 13th Street.

After years of planning, San Luis Obispo County in early February finally completed on-the-ground work that slightly improved drainage in the area. Still, water is pooling at the intersection adjacent to the railroad — and a major fix won’t come until summer at the earliest.

A construction project to prevent the flooding could be delayed if the federal government shuts down on Feb. 15, project manager Genaro Diaz of San Luis Obispo County Public Works told The Tribune on Wednesday.

Any further delay would be on top of a years-long hold-up to fix the area’s lack of drainage, causing flooding that often forces Highway 1 to close during heavy storms.

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Highway 1 was closed and detoured at 12th Street in Oceano, but that didn’t stop a few from driving around signs on March 21, 2018. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

For years, the county has known that flooding is a problem in Oceano. The need for improved drainage in the unincorporated community was formally recognized by the county in 2004, when the county Flood Control and Water Conservation District published a report titled “Oceano Drainage and Flood Control Study.“

The report says that flood control facilities are limited in the area because underlying sands were initially effective at absorbing the runoff. An increase of urbanization brought an increase in impervious surfaces, like pavement, and a decrease in the ability of soil and sand to absorb the runoff.

Basically, county officials did not build flood control measures to accommodate community development.

Because of that, “extensive ponding can occur for several days after significant rainfall, causing damage to nearby businesses and creating driving hazards,” the 2004 report says.

That is still true 15 years later.

Authorities closed Highway 1 in Oceano for about 3 hours on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, due to flooding after an intense California rain storm hit San Luis Obispo County.

“Any time that it rains, you see flooding there,” Diaz said.

Some water from recent rains has been diverted to flow into native material instead of pooling on the road — thanks to a new curb, gutter and a drop inlet installed in the first phase of the drainage improvements project, completed Feb. 7.

The more substantial work expected to take place this summer would include installation of more pipes and inlets to divert surface water to the Arroyo Grande Creek Channel, Diaz said. That project is expected to prevent flooding on that road.

It’s taken so many years to fix the problem, Diaz said, because of difficulties obtaining funding and permits.

“It’s a complicated project because various agencies are involved: the railroad, Federal Aviation Administration, Caltrans and the Coastal Commission,” he said. “Dealing with everyone, that’s what makes this project hard.”

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A truck drives through a flooded area of Highway 1 at 13th Street in Oceano in January. The road was closed Wednesday morningafter heavy rainfall. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The county now has all the approvals and permits, and the design is ready. What’s missing is $3 million in funding, which the county anticipates receiving from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

To get that money and move forward with the process to begin construction in early summer, the federal agency needs to approve construction documents soon. That won’t happen if USDA employees are furloughed by a shutdown.

“We’re working hard to get approved before the 15th,” Diaz said. “I’m checking with them basically daily.”

Even if USDA doesn’t approve the documents, Diaz said he thinks the work will be done this year.

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Monica Vaughan reports on Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com