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Lopez Lake overflow could worsen flooding issues in Oceano

lopez spillway web.PNG
Posted at 9:42 PM, Mar 20, 2023

The incoming storm has prompted another evacuation warning for low-lying areas of Oceano.

Lopez Lake is expected to begin overflowing sooner than expected with the next storm and that could cause more flooding downstream in areas along the Arroyo Grande Creek.

It has been 25 years since water last flowed over the Lopez Lake spillway, and it’s about to happen again for the first time since 1998.

“That’s going to put more water into the Arroyo Grande Creek channel which is putting more stress on that levee,” said Rachel Dion, Emergency Services Coordinator for San Luis Obispo County.

Neighborhoods around the Oceano Lagoon have been evacuated four times this year so far.

Emergency alerts went off again on Monday ahead of another evacuation warning that took effect at 8 p.m.

“This has at least been the third or fourth time. I did have several campers leave with the evacuation last week which lost us revenue,” said Jaylene Calmenson, camp host at the Five Cities Elks Lodge, which has avoided flood damage through multiple rounds of evacuation orders.

“We are pretty much two or three feet off the ground and up above the lagoon,” said Calmenson. “I’m not concerned at all. My rig has sat out there every evacuation. I haven’t moved it.”

She says that there are contingency plans in place if flooding strikes.

“Everybody’s camping here at their own risk and if we need to leave, I will take them all to Farroll Road and we would park there for the night.”

An uncontrolled release of water from Lopez Lake could further damage the Arroyo Grande Creek levee which has already been hit by multiple rounds of flooding.

“Every time we’ve had these storms, it’s caused some degradation to the levee that we go back and repair,” explained Dion. “It’s not the same that it was in January. It keeps getting hit with storm after storm after storm and so, we have had some close calls.”

While most people have heeded evacuation orders, Dion acknowledges that evacuation fatigue is setting in for many.

“We really look at all these certain aspects of a situation before we issue those orders and warnings, we don’t take it lightly. We know how hard it is to leave your home, to take your pets and your belongings and how stressful that is,” said Dion.

Officials continue to urge caution as Five Cities residents prepare to ride out the next storm.

“Every time it rains, everybody goes into panic mode. “I think we just need to stay calm, use our good sense and pay attention to what’s happening around us,” said Calmenson.

Water could flow over the Lopez Lake spillway either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Public works crews are monitoring creek levels 24/7.

They will report back to the emergency operations center which makes the call on whether an evacuation order is warranted.