Grass Valley residents ask for flood protection
August 5, 2013
It's the height of summer in Nevada County with little recent precipitation and lots of sun in the forecast. But one Grass Valley property owner is still repairing damages from last winter's floods and looking to the city to take action toward thwarting or mitigating a repeat.
"The city council should insist on a thorough report of what happened and how we can mitigate it in the future," said Ray Bryars, who leases property along Matson Creek, which runs with East Main Street.
In late November and early December 2012, Nevada County was soaked by a succession of storms that officially dropped nearly a foot of rain on Grass Valley. However, an unofficial rain gauge at the Nevada County Airport marked 23 inches of precipitation during that time.
Whatever the true rain total may be, what is indisputable is that already-saturated soils did not absorb precipitation, causing creeks and streams to flood and swamping areas all over town. Trees were uprooted, streets became streams, and businesses were drowned.
"That one storm put so much water so fast into the system (that) it was moving 6- and 8-inch boulders down Main Street," said Tim Kiser, Grass Valley's public works director.
On the 900 block of East Main Street, the Fairway Building that overlooks the Nevada County Golf Course had its entrance flooded, along with offices, prompting some tenants to leave, Bryars said.
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Down the street, Big A Drive-In and Moule Paint and Glass would spend days mopping up and throwing ruined materials away.
"They got hit pretty hard," Bryars said.
On Mill Street, Sherry O'Leary's two vehicles and hot tub were both submerged in water, her garage was flooded, and play structures in the yard floated in the muddy waters of the overflowing Wolf Creek behind her house.
After the flooding, Bryars approached the city council to ask its members to do something. He remembers laughter at pictures of kayakers in parking lots.
"It was like they were completely disconnected from the pain and suffering this thing caused," Bryars said.
"I want them to understand that people's lives are being impacted."
In a post-event assessment, Kiser estimated that city property alone sustained between $60,000 and $80,000 worth of damage, but no accumulative damages to homes and businesses have been tabulated.
Bryars points to a 1986 city study that looked at storm water drainage systems and created a master project list, putting Matson Creek as the third priority, Bryars said.
The problem is two-fold, Bryars said. On the one hand, Matson Creek's antiquated drain pipes need to be increased by five times. On the other hand, he said, developed streets, businesses and residences discourage saturation, moving more water into creeks more quickly.
"It is on the city's radar. It is a high priority as far as storm drainage is concerned," Kiser said. "Unfortunately, with financial issues hitting the city, we don't have the funds to handle it."
Revamping the city's drainage system would cost millions of dollars, he said.
"It is an expensive problem," Kiser said, who also noted that storm water projects are funded from the city's general fund.
Bryars has banded together with some business owners and residents to form Matson Creek Watershed Property Owners. Kiser and staff have met a couple of times with this group, he said.
Bryars was the only person to sit through the city's arduous budget-crafting session and represented the only public request for funds.
"You can't go year after year and say there isn't any money for this," Bryars said. "All we are asking for is to at least assign somebody to look at how we can fund this."
While Kiser points out that such a decision would need to come from the council, he said he and his staff already search for funding grants. However, he has often said that no feasible amount of engineering would have totally insulated the city from the December storms.
"I can't see any system preventing that from happening," Kiser said.
"But it certainly could have been mitigated."
Until funding is allocated, Bryars and his cohorts plan to oppose any uphill or upstream developments that don't detain enough water before feeding into the creeks.
"We'd much rather work with the city … It's basically: How can we work with the city to fix this?" Bryars said.
"We could go four to five years without another problem, or it could be worse next year. You just don't know."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.