Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Monday in seven northern and central California counties, saying the region’s rainiest March on record and more rain on the horizon put people and property in “extreme peril.”
Many reservoirs in California’s Central Valley are groaning at full capacity, and at least 10 more days of rain are forecast for the region.
Levee repairs are typically done in the summer, when water behind them is at its low point, but state water officials fear the heavy rain could weaken some levees to the point of failure. They took advantage of a weekend lull in the storms to patch some weak spots in the system but were still concerned.
“We saw in New Orleans the storm was coming in, it was known days ahead, and we’re not sure they took all the steps that they could have,” said Rodney Mayer, acting chief of the California Division of Flood Management.
Schwarzenegger had already declared a state of emergency for California’s levee system in February, a step that freed up about $103 million for repairs to 24 flood-prone sites.
His new declaration Monday didn’t specify an amount of aid but directed “all agencies of the state” to dispatch staff, equipment and facilities.
In the declaration, Schwarzenegger wrote that “extreme peril to the safety of persons and property” afflicted the counties of Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Stanislaus.
The levee work on Sunday had included reinforcing levees, building a berm and adding rocks to protect a river bank from eroding in San Joaquin County near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers. In Fresno County, crews worked on raising a levee that protects the town of Firebaugh, population 7,000.