Supervisors seek quick fixes for Oceano flood problems

With long-term solutions to flooding problems plaguing Oceano still years away, county supervisors on Tuesday pushed their public works staff to focus on fixes that can be put in place before this season’s storms.

“These folks are looking for relief, and they need to see something happening this year,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said.

Last December, storms caused flooding that damaged 70 homes throughout San Luis Obispo County. Much of the damage happened in South County, with some of the hardest-hit homes located in the neighborhood off Pier Avenue, near the Oceano County Airport and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District.

With the rainy season approaching, and with Lopez Lake at 92 percent of its capacity — the highest it’s been in 15 years — county supervisors told staff to come to its Oct. 25 meeting with a plan of action for the Arroyo Grande Creek channel and the Oceano lagoon (also called Meadow Creek lagoon).

“I think it would be helpful for the public to get a little crisper view of what public works envisions for this coming winter vs. the longer term because ... there are no simple fixes in the longterm,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said.

Supervisors also agreed to draft a letter to regulatory agencies — both state and federal agencies that require permits for work in the area — urging their “expeditious cooperation” with the county’s efforts.

A top concern is preventing water in the nearly 3-mile-long Arroyo Grande Creek levee from spilling over or breaking through and flooding either homes, if the north side was breached, or farmland on the south side.

In 2001, the levee breached on the south side, flooding hundreds of acres of farmland and several residences. A December 2009 public works report noted that the channel’s capacity was severely reduced.

County supervisors acknowledged that same month that the channel, constructed in the late 1950s, had met its “design life” — or, as county public works Director Paavo Ogren said more simply Tuesday, is “functionally obsolete.”

The county retained responsibility for maintenance of the channel to protect the public, though now the levee doesn’t meet state standards.

Public works staff has identified several areas of the creek channel that are of particular concern based on their slope and the amount of vegetation and sediment in the channel.

A levee overtopping or breaching “is always a concern, but because Lopez is the highest it’s been in 15 years and with any reasonable rainfall it will fill it’s more of a concern,” said Dean Benedix, public works utilities division manager.

County officials’ No. 1 priority, Ogren said, is preventing any loss of life, followed by preventing property damage.

7 projects could curb South County flood threat

Public works Director Paavo Ogren identified seven projects that could be completed for the Arroyo Grande Creek and Oceano lagoon area before this winter.

They include raising both sides of the levee west of the railroad and 22nd Street; constructing a raised barrier on private agricultural land east of mobile homes located along Highway 1; raising part of Delta Street to divert more water into the levee; anchoring plastic sheeting over several sections of the levee to prevent erosion should the water overtop; and continuing to thin vegetation in the channel.

Two projects are proposed for the Oceano lagoon, which flooded residents’ homes in December: breaching a sandbar to allow water from the creek to flow freely to the ocean and pumping water out of the lagoon.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.