Watershead, Fall 2010
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New Studies Show Increased Flood Threat For Santa Paula

The viability of the Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) Santa Paula Creek flood control project that protects the City of Santa Paula is the subject of a new report (soon to be released) covering the potential for sediment deposit in the channel that could increase the flood threat to the city. This follows an earlier Corps study that revised the 100-year peak flow from 28,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 38,800 cfs.

FSCR has been following this issue closely because Santa Paula Creek is a prime spawning stream for the endangered southern steelhead. The fishladder that was built as part of the flood control project was heavily damaged in the near-record 2005 flood. The Corps had proposed to construct a second fishladder similar in design to the one that was damaged. This was to cost $7 million, funds for which were to be committed by Sept 30, 2010.

In April, FSCR, CalTrout, and Keep the Sespe Wild Committee wrote to California's two senators to oppose the construction of a second costly fishladder, which would also be at risk of being battered by boulders and filled with sediment. Subsequently, the Corps revised its plans and will, instead, devote the available funds to conduct an environmental assessment and design studies of project modifications that could result in improved flood protection.

In late July, the above three groups met with the County of Ventura Watershed Protection District and the Corps of Engineers regarding all of the above issues. The Corps issued assurances that we would all receive the new sediment study as soon as it is finalized, and we eagerly await this report. It is our understanding that sediment deposited downstream of the concrete-walled flood control channel could cause flooding which would leave Hwy. 126 access roads under 5 feet of water, and Hwy. 126 itself only 12 inches above the water level.

Even though the estimated peak flow in a 100-year flood has been revised to 38,800 cfs (not 28,000 cfs, as previously estimated), the Corps apparently is not allowed to use this new, higher number in their planning without federal legislation to authorize such a change. The Corps, along with the County, will next prepare a General Reevaluation Report on Santa Paula Creek. This will be included in their fiscal year 2012 budget and will be completed during 2013-15.

The overall situation is complicated by the fact that a new Santa Paula development project, termed East Area 1, is planned adjacent to the east side of the creek. Environmental review for the project will need to reevaluate the flooding threat, which was overlooked in the EIR for the East Area 1 Specific Plan. Modifications to the project, including possible channel widening, should be considered as part of overall improvement in flood protection for the entire east end of Santa Paula.


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