The Cambrian

Miracle March flooding put parts of Cambria underwater

A Cambria Community Services Ditrict pickup plows through water on the Pinedorado Grounds during a series of storms that dropped several inches of rain on Cambria during the week of March 19.
A Cambria Community Services Ditrict pickup plows through water on the Pinedorado Grounds during a series of storms that dropped several inches of rain on Cambria during the week of March 19.

The storm of March 21-23 may not have set weather records, but it was a humdinger anyway. As rain fell in occasionally drenching downpours, landslides closed Santa Rosa Creek Road and some stretches of Highway 1 near the Monterey County Line, and lots of runoff collected in flood-prone areas, some of which weren’t supposed to flood anymore.

There was just too much rain all at once, according to officials, including Jason Buhl, water systems supervisor for the Cambria Community Services District. The cascade of surface runoff was the culprit, he said in a March 26 email interview, especially when combined with heavy rainfall onto the locations that were flooding.

“The culverts and storm drains got backed up” and runoff “overflowed into the streets.”

More than 4 inches of rain fell in three days, which was more than Cambria had received during the rest of March, bringing the total for the month to 8.13 inches.

A friend who lives near Rocky Butte above San Simeon told Buhl that his area had received 30 inches of rain at his cabin during this fiscal year, with more than 10 inches on the night of March 21-22 alone.

Winds and roads

Despite winds that began after the rain, there had been very few storm-related emergency calls by midday March 26, according to Cambria Fire Department officials. Department records show that a tree fell into an Astor Drive home late on March 22, causing some damage, and earlier, crews had to drag a smaller fallen tree out of the roadway near Kay Street and Orville Avenue.

And those new road blockages? Agency crews cleared them by the end of that week, although Highway 1 remains closed at Mud Creek due to ongoing work to build a new road atop last year’s major landslide.

It took less than a day for workers to clear the slide on Santa Rosa Creek Road.

Dave Flynn, deputy director of county Public Works, said, “we have concerns on the creek impinging on the slope, washing away portions (and) jeopardizing the road. … This is same spot from last year at around 5 miles from town where we realigned the road away from the creek, but the creek is following it over … We are watching this closely … (but) we have no permits which would allow us to place large rocks to arrest the erosion.”

San Simeon well field

uhl said San Simeon Creek overflowing onto district property caused recent flooding at the San Simeon well field. “Some of the water did come from across the road near the equestrian center. That is common when we get 3 or more inches of rain in a 24-hour period.”

The district’s water-supply wells in San Simeon “all came out unscathed” in the flooding, however, Buhl said. “None of the wells were underwater.”

As a safety measure, “We are currently only running SS2 well in San Simeon at this moment,” he said. “SS1 is off due to creek flow and proximity to the creek. There is some water pooling below and near SS3,” so “as a safety precaution we are not running SS3 at this time.”

He said his department do special sampling tests before SS3 goes back online.

Old Cambria Marketplace

During the catastrophic 1995 flood, iconic photographs of the gas station at the far end of Main Street became a symbol of the depth of the water, which rose to near the top of the gas-pump islands.

Since then, county Public Works installed a flood-control project designed to alleviate problems from rising creek water and, to a certain extent, runoff from the hills above the low-lying area.

However, on March 22, the Shell station flooded again, with water coming close to the pump islands. It’s not the first time that’s happened since the flood-control project was installed.

Buhl explained that “right behind the Shell station is a concrete culvert device, next to the garage of the home that has the winding trail up the hill.” He said the culvert, installed long ago by a homeowner, “collects a lot of water from the Happy Hill area. When working properly, the culvert sends the water into our storm drains.”

San Luis Obispo County doesn’t own or maintain the culvert, he said, but “on occasion, SLO County employees clean debris” out of it “to help water flow into the storm drains … even though it is not SLO County’s responsibility to keep this culvert functioning properly.”

He said that during the March 22 downpour, “the culvert was filled with mud and debris, forcing most of the water onto Kent Street behind the Shell Station,” which “contributed to the flooding of the west end of town. Once SLO County started up the pumping station located across from the Shell station, that helped move the water into the creek.”

Flynn said staff was assigned to and monitoring the pump station, and “the pump was activated to kick on automatically.”

Pinedorado grounds

During the storm, the Pinedorado grounds flooded for the fourth time in two years, according to Michael Broadhurst, president of the Lions Club of Cambria, which owns the grounds.

He estimated that as much as 2 feet of runoff accumulated in the grounds, which is the low spot in that area, flowing all the way to the kiddie rides and flooding a couple of the buildings, including the Pub.

Lion Andy Zinn said “firewood for the barbecue floated out all over the grounds. Luckily, we repaired the roofs last year after the big rains.”

Buhl said flooding at the grounds “was caused from high volume of water flowing from higher elevations above that area,” with “water flowing from Hartford and Pineknolls” drives and other areas.

Flynn said in an email interview March 26 that “the Pinedorado area continues to be a problem as there is no positive flow out of the area with high creek flows. Some means to drain this area further west may solve the issue, but we have not identified a plan or funding to proceed with such work. It is on our list of potential drainage fixes which we have throughout the county in almost every community.”