[Fosc] NEWS: Article on Oakland Creeks and Flooding Risks

Edward Goehring ebgb at sbcglobal.net
Sat Feb 2 12:26:54 PST 2008

        Before the Flood
        NovoMetro.com |   Daniel McGlynn  |  February 1, 2008

        Photos Courtesy: Bay Area Public Safety Partnership

        Maybe you’ve seen them: Oaklanders stooped in raingear and rubber boots, tending to clogs and dams with sticks, rakes, or
even salad tongs. They are the good ones. The citizens who take it upon themselves to unclog city drains when the rain falls and
falls and the storm water runs.

        The topography of Oakland falls neatly into two categories in terms of storm water. In the hills, there are steep folds and
ravines that funnel the water toward creeks. In the flats, you have wide floodplains that serve the opposite function and spread
large volumes of water over large areas of land. Despite the different topographical features, the entire City faces flood risks.
The problem is a decrepit storm drain infrastructure and scant information about the responsibilities of creekside property owners.

        If you live in a downslope house in the Oakland Hills, chances are you have dealt with flooding issues. If you live on the
banks of a creek, you may lose sleep on rainy nights wondering if tonight will be the night the creek escapes its banks and invades
your home. Considering how susceptible parts of the city are to floodwaters, it’s alarming how little awareness there is of Oakland’
s flood history, or even what property owners can do to stem rising waters.

        Lesley Estes, the Watershed Program Supervisor for City’s Watershed Program, says flood control is “similar to other
property owner responsibilities,” such as fire abatement, tree care, and drainage. “Most of the City’s storm drainage efforts are
focused on flood prevention on streets and to structures during storm events,” added Ms. Estes. In the past, the City has provided
information on creek care through it’s Public Works website and through mailings.

        It looks like no one got the memo. According to an informal survey of 2,400 Oaklanders conducted by Oakland resident Edward
Goehring, who is part of the Bay Area Public Safety Partnership, there is little awareness about the responsibilities of living
creekside.  Some residents have owned property around Oakland’s creeks for 30 years, and have never been contacted by any form of
government concerning flood control issues, Mr. Goehring says.

        Richard Grassetti, who is part of the North Hills Drainage Task Force, a citizen group that studies flooding and erosion
issues in North Oakland, likes to call the Oakland Hills, “upscale Appalachia.”  He is referring to the undersized and poorly
maintained storm water drainage system. When storms pummel the city with rain and overwhelm the crumbling sewer system, the
traditional fix by the City has been to route storm water to existing creeks. This compounds the problem of downstream flooding. Mr.
Grassetti, like many of his Hills' neighbors gets a little anxious when there’s a decent rain. He says he takes walks through his
neighborhood on rainy days and makes sure the storm drains are clear.

        There is a general acknowledgment that there is a problem with the inadequate storm water system. In Mr. Grassetti’s
opinion, the Public Works Department has been responsive. They even put in a doublewide storm drain near his home. The City points
to its 1997 Creek Protection Ordinance, which requires specific building permits that are aimed at preventing further erosion and
flood damage, as one of the measures it has undertaken to help control the problem.

        Still, many Oakland residents remain ignorant of the local flood history or of their responsibilities as property owners.
According to Rory MacNeil, who deals with real estate issues for the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District,
storm drain and creek information are part of Title Reports when buying a home. It is the responsibility of real estate agents to go
over these reports with property owners, but this rarely happens.

        One thing concerned residents can do is to identify which watershed they live in. This information correlates to Flood
Insurance Rate maps, which show flood prone areas.  Flood maps talk about hundred year floods, which are considered the greatest of
flooding events and have a one-in-a-hundred chance (or one percent) of happening in a given year. The last hundred-year flood event
around Sausal Creek, for example, happened in 1962 and happens about every 27 years.

        Oakland residents can prepare themselves for flooding by picking up sandbags and plastic sheeting that are made available by
the Public Works Agency. The City is also looking for volunteers for their Maintain a Drain program. Homeowners and neighborhoods
can also start groups that deal with drainage, flooding, and erosion, or possibly become a sub-group of already existing

        To report flooding call the Pubic Works Call Center at 510-615-5566.

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