With the floodgates of Don Pedro Reservoir opened on Monday afternoon - sending more water down an already swollen the Tuolumne River - residents began experiencing de ja vu of the 1997 flood. But officials say the current releases should not result in the levels of more serious flooding of 20 years ago.
Turlock Irrigation District officials held a press conference on Monday to announce that one of three controlled spillways at the reservoir above La Grange would be opened. Initially TID decided to release approximately 18,000 cubic feet per second from the spillway to bring the lake level down. Because anticipated storms did not produce as much rain as originally forecasted, the rate of release was backed down to 16,000 CFS as of Monday evening.
By comparison, the releases are less than half of what they were when the lake nearly crested in 1997. Still, the extra water flowing from the spillway is enough to bring the river level up 62 feet at the Ninth Street Bridge. By comparison, in 1997 the river level reached 71 feet which caused the Riverdale Tract north of Whitmore Avenue south of the Modesto wastewater treatment plant to be evacuated because of flooding.
How long the spillway remains open is dependent on future storms and temperature. Releases are adjusted based on the amount of inflow entering the reservoir.
The opening of the spillway was prompted because Don Pedro is nearly full and more capacity is needed for the spring snow melt off. Allowing the lake to overfill would otherwise cause water to crest the dam and potentially destroy the earth-filled barrier.
Jason Hicks, TID Incident Commander, said on Monday that spillway flows could range from 18,000 to 30,000 CFS.
Sheriff's deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and officers from Modesto and Ceres Police Departments were out along Tuolumne River over the weekend making notification to residents who potentially will be impacted. As of press time, officials only advised residents living along the river to prepare to evacuate but had not reached a mandatory action.
Some residents of the trailer park between the Tuolumne River's south bank and River Road immediately east of the Ninth Street Bridge had moved to higher ground by Saturday. As the river rose on Tuesday, more residents evacuated their mobile homes and trailers from both Driftwood Mobile Home Park and Terrace Trailer Park on River Road.
Sheriff Adam Christianson sent a message to criminals who may pray on those who have to leave their homes.
"Guaranteed there will be deputy sheriffs watching and if you dare victimize anyone who has to leave their home, if you decide you want to exploit them, guarantee there will be a strong response from the Sheriff's Office," said Christianson at the presser. "You will get arrested and you will be prosecuted."
In the interest of electrical safety along the river, TID and MID de-energized power lines along the Tuolumne River channel over the weekend. Approximately 1,000 electrical service connections along the Tuolumne River channel from La Grange to the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers lost power. Parts of Waterford were left without power but electricity was restored on Tuesday.
Residents should be prepared for the potential of additional regionalized flooding events in the coming days. Always avoid flooded roads, remain clear of fast-moving creeks and rivers, and follow all emergency signage.
The increased flows resulted in the closure of the Waterford-Hickman Bridge due to concerns about the scouring of the footings. Most of the county road closures are on the west side of the county where the San Joaquin River has flooded farmlands. As of yesterday, the county reported closures on Shiloh Road between Grayson and Paradise roads; Grayson Road from Cox to Shiloh roads; River Road from Hills Ferry to Villa Manucha roads; Vivian Road between Keyes Road and Monte Vista Avenue; Ellenwood Road between Oakdale/Waterford Highway and Claribel Road; Montpellier Road between Whitmore Avenue and Keyes Road; Oak Flat Road between Ward Avenue and Diablo Grande Parkway; Milnes Road between Bentley Road and Wellsford Road; Claus Road between Terminal Avenue and Claribel Road; Welty Road between Blewitt Road and Gaffery Road; Spencer Street between Welty Road and McCracken Road; Vineyard Avenue between Loquat Avenue and Sequoia Avenue; Mulberry Avenue between Highway 33 and Vineyard Avenue; Highway 33 between Rodgers Road and Fruit Avenue; Baldwin Road at Zacharias Road; and Hale Road at Stuhr Road.
In the event that TID has to increase water released from Don Pedro residents who are in peril of their homes being flooded may get sandbags from the Stanislaus County Corporation Yard at 1716 Morgan Road west of Highway 99 or at the Hughson Corp Yard, 2301 First Street, Hughson.
A temporary shelter has been set up at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds' Turf Club but was not busy as of Tuesday.
Don Pedro levels and Tuolumne River releases are posted online at www.tid.org/flows and to sign up for emergency notifications via text or email through Stanislaus Office of Emergency Services, visit stanaware.com. Those with questions may call the Stanislaus OES at 1 (866) 216-5702 or (209) 552-3899.