Local News

Jan 18, 2010 9:44 PM by Ariel Wesler

Heavy rains raise concerns about levee

The strong storms expected to continue this week have some concerned about the Santa Maria levee bursting its banks.

The Army Corps of Engineers declared the levee at risk of failure back in 2006.

A 40-million dollar stimulus project is underway to strengthen nearly seven miles of levee. The mayor says it protects at least 17,000 homes.

Those living near the levee didn't seem too concerned about water levels rising, but others wonder if it's just a matter of time and can it handle all this rain.

Flooding is no stranger to Santa Maria, just ask Harrell Fletcher. He moved to town in 1941 and says it was constant.

"1941, 1942, 1943," Fletcher said.

In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Santa Maria Levee, stopping a lot of the flooding. Fletcher, a former Santa Barbara County Supervisor, says the levee last flooded in 1974.

"It breached up east of town, but they were able to get big boulders and rocks," he said.

Flash forward to 2006, the same group that built the levee reports some structural flaws.

"I've thought about it and it was more of a concern a couple years ago, in the past 4 or 5 years before it became an issue that other people were working on," said Dena Zepeda of Santa Maria.

A $40 million construction project is in progress to strengthen it. City leaders estimate the levee protects at least 17,000 people, beyond its banks.

"Not just we would be affected but a good part of Santa Maria," said Alex Modol, who lives near the levee.

"It not only saves the town, but it saves thousands of acres of farmland," Fletcher said.

And these storms serve as a rainy reminder of just what's at stake.

Repairs on the levee should be done by Fall of 2011.

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