Time to prepare for winter storms, flooding in SLO County

A trio of canoeists brave the waters of H Street in Santa Margarita after a storm in February 1998 caused creeks to overflow.
A trio of canoeists brave the waters of H Street in Santa Margarita after a storm in February 1998 caused creeks to overflow.

After four years of drought, it’s hard to imagine rainwater coming down in sheets so long and so hard that roads wash out, hills erode, creeks spill over their banks and flood nearby neighborhoods, and some residents find the best method of transportation is by boat.

But it’s happened before in San Luis Obispo County, and it could happen again.

As local cities and communities prepare for a potential major El Niño event this winter, officials are also urging residents to prepare their homes and properties for potential flooding and other storm-related problems. Some have already taken that advice: local roofing company owners have seen a dramatic increase in business over the past few months, and hardware stores report steady sales of tarps, pipe insulation and sandbags.

“We’re actually swamped,” said Kenny Roush, co-owner of Kyle Company Roofing. “Everyone is hearing El Niño, and the phone is ringing off the hook.”

“We’re doing a lot of repair work,” he added. “Not very many people are calling to say, ‘Can you come out and look at my roof?’ They already think they have a problem or had a leak in the past and now want it taken care of.”

At Pismo Bob’s hardware store, customers are buying pipe insulation, drop cloths, roof repair and weather stripping materials, nursery manager Christian Pringle said. The store also has a bunch of rain boots, ponchos and rain suits.

The Miner’s stores throughout San Luis Obispo County have seen increased sales in roof repair products, pipe insulation — particularly in North County, where temperatures recently dropped below freezing — and rain barrels, Miner’s marketing director Laurel Cadena said. She said several stores sold out of rain barrels after storms earlier in the season.

“People were more focused on the drought. I’m hoping we see that trend continue,” she said. “We’re definitely keeping (rain barrels) in stock and trying to remind our customers that the rain is something that we need to take advantage of and try to capture it.”

At Miner’s Ace Hardware in San Luis Obispo, customers can pick up tarps, gutter-repair supplies, and full and empty sandbags, assistant store manager Jason Campbell said.

Sandbags and sand can be picked up at locations throughout San Luis Obispo County.

Stephen Quaglino, co-owner of Quaglino Roofing, suggested residents keep their gutters clean and make sure their roof drains properly.

“If they’re comfortable getting on the roof, some simple maintenance is resealing around pipe penetrations,” Quaglino said. “But if they’re not comfortable getting on a roof, it’s not a good place to be.”

In addition, some cities have compiled tips for residents to prepare for winter weather, including floods.

“First of all, find out if you’re in a flood zone,” said Barbara Lynch, San Luis Obispo’s deputy director of public works and city engineer. “Get some sandbags ahead of time or some other way to protect and prevent water from entering your home.”

“Take a walk around your property and look for things that will block water flow,” she added. “If you live on a creek, is there brush that might allow it to clog? Is there a tree that might look like it’s about to fall? Have an arborist come and look at it and get a permit to get a removal.”

In San Luis Obispo, the city maintains about half of the San Luis Obispo Creek system that runs through town and has access to some other parts through drainage easements. But there are portions of that and other creeks that are privately owned and must be privately maintained.

San Luis Obispo resident Patricia Golden and other members of her homeowners association recently learned that the city does not own a creek near their properties in the area of Tank Farm Road and Broad Street.

“I knew the creek could overflow,” Golden said. “I’ve seen it getting more and more cluttered. ... There’s articles of clothing, maybe a tire tube. There’s also a lot of dirt and silt and other things, but it appears in one spot right on the bend there’s a big tree branch that’s dead or growing sideways.”

Homeowners association members met with city biologist Freddy Otte and decided to contact a tree removal company to help with cleanup. Golden hasn’t seen that work happen yet but feels confident that it will take place.

San Luis Obispo resident Harry Busselen, who has spoken about flooding concerns at several City Council meetings, said he’s concerned that some residents don’t realize that they might be responsible for a creek and are waiting for a crew to come around and clean it.

“The general feeling is that it’s going to be taken care of before the rainy season,” he said.

Otte said he’s received numerous calls from people worried about a creek in their backyard. If it’s on private property, Otte tells them that dead and downed material can be removed, but further work, such as tree removal, requires permits.

“You could remove the dead branches and sticks and increase (the creek’s) capacity just by doing that,” Otte said.

Tribune reporter Kaytlyn Leslie contributed to this report.

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO

Preparing for winter weather

Here are some tips from local cities:

  • Clean out the drainage areas on your property. To prevent clogged drains, properly dispose of yard waste in your green waste bin. Report obstructions in public drainage systems, such as leaves, debris and trash.
  • Clean and check that gutters and downspouts work properly and use a downspout extension to direct water away from the house foundation. Install gutter guards or screens.
  • Use sandbags to protect your property. Move valuables and furniture to higher areas of the home.
  • Keep lumber, plywood and plastic sheeting handy for emergency waterproofing.
  • Have an emergency supply of nonperishable food, water, batteries, flashlights, a manual can opener, battery-operated radio, first-aid kit, and necessary prescription medications and/or insulin. During major flooding, you may want to fill bathtubs, sinks and jugs with clean water in case regular supplies are shut off or contaminated.
  • Develop an evacuation plan for your family.
  • If flooding conditions are imminent, avoid driving. Do not try to drive through flooded areas or around barricades. Do not wade through deep pockets of water or running washes. Avoid creeks and bridges during heavy storms.
  • After a long drought followed by significant rainfall, many trees are vulnerable to breakage and falling. Be watchful, especially for power lines that may be knocked down by fallen trees.
  • If your property is in imminent danger of flooding, you may need to shut off your gas and electricity for safety. Visit PG&E online for information. If you smell natural gas, see downed power lines or suspect another power-related emergency, call 911 and then call PG&E at 800-743-5002.

Find more tips for protecting your property from the city of San Luis Obispo, http://bit.ly/1MnmVwW; the city of Morro Bay, http://bit.ly/1lvnIDl; and the Los Osos Community Services District, www.losososcsd.org/cm/utilities/Drainage.html.

The Red Cross also has information at http://rdcrss.org/1ev6nkv.

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