San Joaquin County officials have declared a state of emergency in the county as the San Joaquin River approaches flood stage.

On Monday the county announced that conditions caused by atmospheric rivers and continuing impacts from the storms that began on March 1 necessitate the declaration, which the county Board of Supervisors ratified with a proclamation at its Tuesday meeting.

“The county is still recovering from the damages and impacts of severe winter storms in December and January, and is now dealing with the impacts of this recent series of ongoing winter storms that initially struck California beginning in late February and continue to significantly impact the County,” said Tiffany Heyer, Director of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services. “The proclamation will afford the county additional flexibility when managing floodwaters, obtaining resources, and allow for the possibility of state and federal reimbursement.”

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the San Joaquin River level had passed 28 feet, well above the monitor stage of 24.5 feet, as of Thursday morning and continues to rise as water from the Sierra Nevada rivers continues to flow into the San Joaquin Valley.

The California Nevada River Forecast Center expects the river to peak just below flood stage (29 feet) this afternoon and remain at that level until at least Tuesday.

The California Data Exchange Center reports that most of the reservoirs in the state have reached or are near their historical averages, but are not filled to capacity. New Melones Reservoir along the Stanislaus River near Jamestown and Sonora is at 53% of capacity and at 87% of its historical average for mid-March. Don Pedro Reservoir along the Tuolumne River is at 87% capacity and is at 117% of its historical average. Meanwhile the Central Sierra snow water content is more than double (228%) its historical average.

Rain and showers are likely in the next week after Saturday, with the National Weather Service predicting showers likely for Sunday, a chance of rain on Monday, and rain forecast for Tuesday.

The county has also activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as of Friday as a precautionary measure. This action allowed the EOC to prepare for flood events with its cities, irrigation districts, and other agencies.

On Tuesday the supervisors heard from Chris Elias, Executive Director of the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency (SJAFCA), about flood control projects that are now in progress in the region.

Elias told the board that Stockton, Manteca, and Lathrop have the lowest level of flood protection among major river cities in the U.S., and warned that in the next 50 years the San Joaquin River could endure six times the annual flows it currently experiences, annual damages of $1.5 billion, and at least 160 deaths due to flooding each time a major storm hits.

“Yes, it historically floods here, but the flood events are now closer together and becoming more powerful due to climate change conditions,” Elias told the board. “In fact, a recent UCLA study points to likely ‘megaflood’ in next 50 years, which would completely inundate communities in the San Joaquin region.”

He summarized four projects that are designed to reduce flooding hazards in San Joaquin County, including:

• Paradise Cut: A proposed public/private project between Tracy and the River Islands development will expand the existing bypass to divert floodwaters. It would include levee removal, setback and dredging as well as significant ecosystem enhancements. The project is undergoing a feasibility study and depending on funding could be complete in 3 to 5 years.

• Lower San Joaquin River Project Phase I: A $1.4 billion project, including more than 23 miles of levee improvements around Stockton, is designed to protect 162,000 people and will start this year and take about 7 years to complete.

• Lower San Joaquin River Project Phase II: A $270 million project including levee improvements to protect 50,000 people and areas from Lathrop to French Camp, including San Joaquin County Hospital and San Joaquin County Jail. The project is currently undergoing a feasibility study.

• Smith Canal Project: A $97 million project isolate Smith Canal in Stockton from the San Joaquin River. It would protect up to 24,000 people in 8,000 properties and removes a special flood hazard area and additional regulatory impacts.

“With the weather we’ve experienced over the last 2 months and the resulting flooding, it is important for the public to be aware of the types of projects we have implemented, plans in the pipeline, and programs to be implemented in the future to reduce and manage flood incidents,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Rickman.

• Contact the Tracy Press at or 209-835-3030.

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