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New Wave of Storms Could Trigger Floods, Levee Breaks

State warns residents of the San Joaquin Valley to `be extremely cautious.' Weather Service expects `potent' system by Tuesday.

April 08, 2006|From the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — State water officials warned Friday of the potential for flooding and levee breaks throughout the San Joaquin Valley as California braced for another wave of storms, with a major system predicted to slam the state by early next week.

"We are extremely worried there is a potential for levee failure in the San Joaquin system," said Jay Punia, chief of flood operations for the state Department of Water Resources.

"We can't tell you where it will happen. If somebody is living behind a levee in the San Joaquin, they should be extremely cautious."

The warning comes as California's rivers are running at capacity after more than a month of steady rain. Local and state water managers have been worried about the combination of a heavy Sierra snowpack, a water system already at its limit and another wave of storms.

National Weather Service meteorologist Elizabeth Morse said forecasters were most concerned about a storm that would start moving over the entire state as early as Tuesday, calling it "quite potent."

"What we see is a system that looks extremely moist," she said.

The San Joaquin Valley and Southern California in particular could receive a "fairly hefty" pelting, she said.

The system that began moving over parts of Northern California on Friday was the region's 20th storm in six weeks.

State and federal officials said they are releasing water from reservoirs in the Sierra foothills above the San Joaquin Valley to make room for the coming precipitation. Those releases could strain rivers and levees, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flood watch for the San Joaquin River.

The increased flow into the rivers contributed to flooding along the swollen San Joaquin River, which overflowed its banks Friday, inundating the Fisherman's Bend mobile home park with a foot of water. About 50 residents were evacuated from 24 residences.

Voluntary evacuations were in effect for three nearby trailer parks, said David Jones, spokesman for the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services.

"We don't know whether it's a levee break or the overtopping of the levee," he said.

"We're still assessing the situation."

Water officials also are watching the farming community of Vernalis, on the banks of the San Joaquin River west of Modesto. Flows there have exceeded flood stage, said Gary Bardini, chief of hydrology and flood operations with the state Department of Water Resources.

"We're going to have very high stages in this area, and it's going to be high for some time," he said.

The state Department of Agriculture also has warned livestock operators about the flooding danger along the San Joaquin.

The deliberate releases into the San Joaquin River system were among the reasons for Friday's flooding of the trailer park near the town of Newman, about 20 miles west of Merced, Department of Water Resources spokesman Michael Miller said. But he said that if officials don't take pressure off the upstream reservoirs, they risk a dam or levee break.

"It comes down to a choice of the lesser of two evils," he said.

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